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'Chiefs allowed Doval to dictate terms and micro manage'

Last updated on: January 13, 2016 08:13 IST

'The ISI is bound to exploit narcoterrorism.'

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, General Dalbir Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval at the Pathankot airbase, January 9. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, General Dalbir Singh and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval at the Pathankot airbase, January 9. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

 

Lieutenant General H S Panag (retd) was one of the Indian Army's finest generals.

General Panag, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, was the GOC-in-C, Northern Command, which is deployed in Jammu and Kashmir and is responsible for guarding about 1,896 km of India's disputed borders with China and Pakistan, including the Line of Actual Control, the Actual Ground Position Line, the Line of Control, as well as the International Border.

The general discussed the Pathankot attack with Archana Masih/Rediff.com in a two-part interview.

Were we caught off guard in spite of the intelligence?

The ISI and terrorists have exploited the drug nexus that exists on either side of the border. Superintendant of Police Salwinder Singh's role is suspect. He could also be an innocent victim, but there are too many unanswered questions.

This nexus has been there for quite some time. The BSF, the Punjab Police and the Punjab politicians are all involved in the drug trade.

There is no difference left between the infiltration of terrorists and smugglers. Everybody is out to make money so it doesn't matter to them. This is how the information has emerged.

There were multiple Commanders from different agencies coordinating the operation. Why don't we learn from the past because the same thing happened in the Mumbai attacks?

The army and air chief handed over their domains to the NSA.

Did they have a choice? What could they have done?

When I was GOC-in-C, Northern Command, even if my own chief tried to do micro management -- I would tell him, "Sir, please give your directions and leave the details to me."

So the directions should have been that the airbase is the target, take necessary action. Period. They allowed him (National Security Adviser Ajit Doval) to dictate terms and micro manage.

What immediate measures need to be taken for security of military installations at the border?

One, this nexus of drug cartels-the police-the BSF must be broken. The BSF needs to gird up seal the IB (International Border) especially along the areas of the Shakargarh Bulge. They can put in additional resources because the terrain is riverine and broken.

One battalion of 6 companies looks after 25 to 30 kms out of which 4 remain operational in this kind of difficult terrain. Beef them up.

Intelligence coordination is an age-old one and, of course, the security of our airbases. There is a need to raise an airbase defence battalion for each base, which should be trained and organised on the lines of regular army battalions.

In 1971, such battalions were raised, but later on, the concept was given up and it was business as usual.

What measures do military commanders on the field have to pay attention to in the light of this attack?

While the army is manpower intensive, the air force is not. The manpower of an airbase is close to 1,500 plus, but most are technical men. They are not well trained. This was well known and will probably get highlighted.

A total revamp of the security of our air force bases is needed.

Also, there is tremendous friction between the three services. You know these things, but things just carry on. The army has become wiser after the terrorist attacks in Jammu and elsewhere. The military areas now have high walls, security is beefed up, but not that you can't be surprised.

The Mamoon cantonment (in Pathankot) has a perimeter of 40 odd kms. It is a wooded area, hilly terrain, but precautions have been taken and must be taken.

Why is Punjab getting vulnerable again?

The issue of terrorism in Punjab is being overplayed. Punjab is not going to be vulnerable to terrorism per se. It is going to be vulnerable to unemployment, drugs and lawlessness. But the ISI is bound to exploit narcoterrorism.

Religion-based terrorism is unlikely to make a comeback. In my village today, 50% people don't wear turbans, they are clean shaven. Where is the fundamentalism to revive all this? Not that people cannot be born again.

After all, General Shahbeg Singh, who died with (Jarnail Singh) Bhindranwale was himself a born-again Sikh. He openly flouted almost all tenets of the Sikh relgion, but died fighting in the Golden Temple. I knew him personally. In my view, the fundamentalist parties are unlikely to do well in the elections.

Archana Masih / Rediff.com