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How do we face future terror onslaughts?

Last updated on: January 04, 2016 14:52 IST

'It sounds hollow when the military -- the last bastion meant to secure India within the State of India -- is itself not found secure on the third day of the Pathankot strike, in spite of so-called definitive intelligence inputs and preparations,' says Lieutenant General Anil Chait (retd), former chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.

Indian soldiers on the lookout for terrorists.

IMAGE: 'Military arsenals by themselves cannot ensure this as the quiver of 4th Generation Warfare has several other Shastras such as cyber, drugs, counterfeit currency to name a few, to derail the Indian growth story in the South Asian context,' says General Anil Chait.

Securing the Pathankot air force base and neutralising the terrorists is still 'ongoing' at the time of writing this article.

There are several issues that arise on the political plane as they have risen earlier, on who really is in charge of all aspects of the Pakistani government, particularly its military security apparatus.

The complicity of that nation's military establishment is obvious, in view of the usage of proxies and support to them, even if its personnel may not be participating directly.

Quite clearly, Mr Nawaz Sharif has no control over a parallel establishment in Pakistan, which sanctions such attacks.

Dealing with India is not within his jurisdiction and agreements made with him in the present circumstances therefore cannot be expected to be honoured.

While the political aspects of the Pathankot fallout will no doubt be actively discussed over the next few weeks, it is the military aspects that emerge from the two days of the ongoing battle that require to be addressed.

This time, 'fidayeen' elements have struck against the Indian Air Force (military and security installations) rather than striking at defenceless mass of civilians.

The shift is aimed at shaking public confidence on the abilities of the military, by direct dramatic attacks on their installations; making them seen as insecure and unsure.

I have consistently emphasised that for Pakistan, the asymmetrical tactics associated with a hybrid approach involved in 4th Generation Warfare, such as the one adopted in Pathankot and earlier instances, are indeed most potent and low cost options.

The 'tonic effect' that these incidents have upon their morale is a significant spin-off. Fighting a weak State is bound to encourage the next crop of 'fidayees'.

How then do we brace ourselves to face such onslaughts in the future? This needs to be seen against the backdrop of the present government's commitment of 'Securing Indians'.

Rhetorically, it may be fine, but it sounds hollow when the military -- the last bastion meant to secure India within the State of India -- is itself not found secure on the third day of the Pathankot strike, in spite of so-called definitive intelligence inputs and preparations. It simply is not reassuring.

Notwithstanding the professed cohesiveness in functioning that is put out to assuage public confidence, the turf battle, control mechanisms, inter-institution functional issues, protocols and procedures continue to be a veritable maze as is visible to discerning eyes.

While previous similar incidents had provided grounds to see reason and smooth functional coordination, a few lessons seem to have been learnt. Sample this:

  • Fidayeen cross border fence without being neutralised/challenged. How many such fidayees in the past have been shot at the fence in such similar attempts?
  • The superintendent of police is abducted and then set free. Does he fight for the nation and security of its people?
  • In spite of warnings, fidayees still manage to enter the designated target area. What, if the warning of the target area was not there?
  • Will the precautionary arrangements and coordination in the present archaic way of functioning ever prove to be adequate?
  • A second line of defence in Punjab against infiltration is announced. Has the optimisation ever been attempted recently of the current arrangements?

As a nation in the immediate proximity of the nursery of terrorism, India must show much more alacrity and maturity in understanding the nature of attacks.

There are no fixed templates in the changing character of war that we are involved in.

Attackers have already shown a clear cold understanding of our weaknesses and systemic shortcomings and have 'pitched the ball' just where we have lacked the capability to forcefully retort.

The urgency therefore is to have an institutional ability for 'thinking through' possible attacks and their means and brace ourselves through the employment of flexible capability through organs already in place, through a more resolute but flexible inter-agency structure and process.

Ideally, this must be include all elements of government assets, capabilities and expertise with complementary mixes of government, civilian and military power, to generate overlapping capabilities cutting across seams or boundaries.

Military arsenals by themselves cannot ensure this as the quiver of 4th Generation Warfare has several other Shastras such as cyber, drugs, counterfeit currency to name a few, to derail the Indian growth story in the South Asian context.

The response needed therefore is a much wider fusion of the defence and security architecture so as to leverage the full potential of our national capabilities.

The military too needs to go beyond merely looking at defence as a mere function of securing borders to a much higher all-encompassing paradigm of securing Indians, to ensure their freedom and ability to lead their daily lives without fear of incapacitation.

Whether it means fighting forward or acting defensively in a 360 degree traverse, they alone have the faith of the people to be in the lead for such an effort.

The need for them is to rise and rise collectively, with candor and courage to deal with the aftermath, notwithstanding Pathankot.

Unless the reins of all national assets for defending India against every kind of foreseeable threat are strongly and tightly held, the vision of a safe and secure India would continue to be a distant one.

Lieutenant General Anil Chait (retd) served as chief of the Integrated Defence Staff; he was also Central Army Commander.

Lieutenant General Anil Chait (retd)
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