The Nagrota terror attack was typical of the fidayeen variety, involving a sneak-in, suicidal shoot-out and infliction of casualties on soldiers. It was the third such terrorist attack in 2016 involving fidayeen, after Pathankot and Uri. Public furore over our inability to secure bases in Jammu and Kashmir demands a brief intervention to explain what the problem as well as the solutions are.
Focus on the Rear End
First, the problem and the failings. Understanding the threat is half the solution. Having an intact and strong front is imperative, but equally, the flanks and rear need attention because we are up against an irregular war as a subset of hybrid war (a hybrid war is one that involves both conventional and irregular warfare).
Resources, infrastructure, surveillance equipment, intelligence and resource distribution, as also tactical procedures, are applicable as much to rear areas. There are even softer civilian targets in the rear but strikes against military installations give the adversary a moral ascendancy. Therefore, prudent deployment of all resources is a must.
Focus More on Sub-Conventional Training
Half the problem is due to the mindset and our inability to rise above the conventional. No doubt the army is maintained and trained to provide deterrence but it cannot remain unilateral in approach by training only to meet the conventional threats. We do train to tackle sub-conventional warfare but our operational alerts and exercises are all designed for conventional threats. (Sub-conventional warfare includes all forms of conflicts below the threshold of a full-fledged war and includes terrorism.)
Sub-conventional training at the unit level is left to on-the-job training. There is insufficient instructional content or literature to allow units to train on their own.
As an example, the artillery unit at Nagrota would have trained regularly for its primary role and must have also undergone full audits. Could that be said for sub-conventional training? A need for training and operational audit for the sub-conventional domain is now a necessity.
Chinks in the Armour
While the security forces can be blamed for some lapses, the public needs to be sensitive to some important facets of sub-conventional operations as a part of a hybrid war. It is almost impossible to maintain the same high degree of alertness 24x365, and have unparalleled effectiveness everywhere.
It’s a weakness of the defender in such operations which can maximally be corrected but can never gain hundred percent capability. This is the chink in the armour that the perpetrator of terror and proxy war exploits. Similar problems have arisen with even the most modern armed forces in Af-Pak and Iraq. Yet that cannot be a pretext for our inability to secure ourselves.
Often intelligence alerts are issued. These are hardly ever localised or specific and are scoffed at by the troops. More often than not these alerts are not conveyed in the spirit in which they ought to be. Random checks of units by security audits and awareness check teams need to be instituted across the board.
Willingness to Escalate
The intention is not to cause panic among public but perhaps the time has come for sounding a greater alert in certain parts of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan is unlikely to remain content with the success it has achieved. It will strike again and hit unconventional targets. Its primary focus will be institutions of the armed forces and police organisations and this could even extend to the families of servicemen. The war in the rear is everybody's war and accusations that those who defend India cannot defend themselves is a negativism which bears no rationale in the light of the explanations about the nature of threats.
Rhetoric is the last thing needed at this juncture. Quiet and efficient operations at the LoC to hit the enemy where it hurts, is the requirement without unnecessarily speaking of the Pakistan DGMO calling his counterpart in India. These things distract from the real issue.
The excellent decision to launch surgical strikes must further demonstrate that these were not a one-off knee-jerk response. Our strategy has to take continuity into consideration and examine the full spectrum of options without being constrained by the problem of escalation. That is a limitation in the mind which must not hog the issue any longer.
We are a patient nation but demonstration of our patience has been construed as a strategic weakness, now partially overcome by the surgical strikes. These strikes were not a deterrence but a punitive action. For them to be converted to a deterrence, the element of continuity and willingness to escalate to higher levels will need to be demonstrated further.
(The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Indian Army. He is now associated with the Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group. He can be reached @atahasnain53. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)