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A year after Pathankot, has anything changed?

December 26, 2016 10:37 IST

Indian soldiers

In a few days time, it will be a year since terrorists attacked the IAF base in Pathankot.
Since that attack, terrorists have targeted other military installations, most recently in Uri and Nagrota.
'More needs to be done in less time,' says Vivek Gumaste.
'A sense of urgency is crucial if the BJP wishes to fulfil its promise of tough, no-nonsense, governance in matters of security.'

We can vociferously condemn in the harshest possible terms the wanton savagery of the cowardly terrorists who attack our military installations with impunity targeting even women and children; we can seethe with self-righteous anger at the diabolical treachery of Pakistan and exult in our moral superiority; we can shed rivers of tears for our martyred soldiers and sing high sounding paeans to the exceptional valour of our fallen jawans.

But at the end of the day we cannot escape the reality; we cannot deny the truth that stares unblinkingly back at us.

Like the child in the famous Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes who drops all pretenses and blurts out: 'The emperor has no clothes,' it is time for us to do the same in face of the recent spate of terror attacks on military installations at Nagrota, Pathankot and Uri.

It is time for us to drop political correctness and shed emotional inhibitions to call the situation as it is: Our security infrastructure, both internal and external, is woefully deficient, endangers our security to a degree that is unacceptable and is in dire need of rectification.

A review of other high profile military/security operations over the last two decades is a tale of embarrassing process failures and humiliating outcomes.

Kargil was an intelligence failure of colossal proportions, the IC-814 fiasco pointed to a lack of an established and executable protocol for hijackings and 26/11 was a pathetic display of chaotic coordination and underlined an ambiguity in the chain of command.

Time and again our valiant jawans have risen to the occasion, overcoming great odds (outdated equipment and ragged personal gear) to restore dignity and pride to our nation.

But these have been salvage operations designed to pull us out of a rut of our own making.

So at the outset let me make one thing clear. This is not an indictment of our brave soldiers. This is an attempt to flush out systemic errors that have conspired to bring us to this sorry pass.

The rot runs deep; one that begins with an entrenched civilisational flaw in our psyche and stretches across the full ambit of our security establishment to include strategic inadequacy, logistic deficiencies and above all poor gubernatorial oversight.

Intrinsic to us as Indians is a grave mental defect: Stark indecisiveness and a lack of urgency; a trait that pervades all walks of our lives but proves to be disastrous in security matters.

Paralytic indecision, procrastination and failure to execute promptly are our guiding principles.

Post the Uri attack, we witnessed a welcome change in a 'surgical strike' which was a step in the right direction; it indicated an assertiveness that contrasted sharply with our tradition of overcautious pusillanimity.

Moreover, the surgical strike assured the army that it was not shackled to waging a lop-sided battle with its hands tied behind its back.

Former home minister P Chidambaram's contention (The Indian Express, December 3) that 'to imagine that surgical strike will put an end to cross-border action has been disproved by what has happened in Nagrota' is a premature and erroneous inference.

Retired Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General D S Hooda correctly averred: 'If we look at everything from a two-month perspective, we will end up adopting a short-term view. That will be counter-productive in terms of dealing with Pakistan.' (Kashmir will be a 'long war,' Hindustan Times, December 1)

So, this is not the time to scale back.

We must ratchet up the pressure in an incremental fashion to drive up the cost to the enemy to levels that would no longer make terror attacks cost effective.

Offensive as well as defensive measures are vital.

While a surgical strike fulfils our offensive need, defensive measures like improved fortification around military bases leave much to be desired.

Here again we see a lack of urgency.

After the Nagrota attack, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar remarked (Hindustan Times, December 3) 'The Defence Research and Development Organisation has been asked to try fences of different kinds -- microwave, laser, smart fence that can pick vibration and CCTV cameras that can pick movement at 1 km.'

But this process should have been initiated nearly 11 months ago after the Pathankot attack and corrective measures implemented post haste.

Had this been done Uri and Nagrota could possibly have been averted. But this did not happen.

An inquiry committee led by former army vice-chief Lieutenant General Philip Campose (retd) constituted after the Pathankot attack did submit its report by mid-May, but little action has followed.

'Since the report was submitted to Parrikar in mid-May, few concrete steps have been taken. There were some general discussions.' (The Times of India, November 30)

Acquisition of up-to-date modern equipment is another area of concern.

Hampered by well-intentioned but crippling rules and regulations, our army has been in an unenviable position of making do with sub-par equipment compromising their performance.

This was especially problematic during the tenure of A K Antony, India's longest serving and arguably its worst defence minister:

'Under Antony, decision-making in the ministry has slowed to a crawl. It has had catastrophic consequences for defence preparedness, with India's military machine-still equipped with tanks, fighter jets and warships acquired mostly in the 1980s-in limbo. Howitzers have not been bought since 1987, new submarines have been delayed by over five years and fighter jet proposals are pending since 1999. This is why Rear Admiral (retired) K Raja Menon calls Antony the "worst defence minister ever".' (India Today, March 7, 2014)

The current defence minister has acknowledged this shortcoming of a complex and tardy bureaucracy.

Procedural hurdles as an excuse, however, is untenable.

Wherever the deficiency lies and whatever the cause, it is the duty of the government to rectify this pronto especially in times of red alert.

The military leadership also cannot absolve itself of all responsibility by pointing a finger at the government.

There are chinks in strategy that fall under its purview and need to be addressed. The Indian Army is the third largest in the world and a well-trained unit. Its functional efficiency must match its size. The military top brass needs to pull up its socks.

The ultimate responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of our military and security infrastructure lies with the government.

Parrikar has tried to rectify past shortcomings endemic to Antony's tenure, but the pace, degree and extent of change still falls short of what is required.

More needs to be done in less time, in other words a sense of urgency is crucial if the Bharatiya Janata Party wishes to fulfil its promise of tough, no-nonsense governance in matters of security.

Vivek Gumaste
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