A Year After Uri: What Has Changed and What Needs To Change
Response to Uri terror attack in the form of surgical strikes was timely but need a pragmatic approach in future.
A sneak attack by four terrorists, who infiltrated the brigade headquarters in Uri, in the wee hours of 18 September 2016, led to the loss of 20 soldiers of the Army, and acted as a trigger for much more to follow.
While such events may have happened in the past too, the Uri attack touched a raw nerve, as it was executed by proxy forces at a time when Kashmir was undergoing one of its worst phases of public unrest, following the killing of Burhan Wani on 8 July 2016.
Worst still was the fact that four terrorists could infiltrate the heavily guarded LoC in this sector, and target the base of one of the most iconic formations of the Indian Army, which I have had the honour to command.
Defence Reforms Can’t Wait
Anniversaries of such negative events are occasions to take stock of changes which should have followed, in order to overcome the weaknesses that resulted into such an operation by the adversary.
However, such analyses need to be holistic and at different levels – tactical, operational and strategic – because it's not just the event, but its handling of the chain and the response which is important.
The Armed Forces are aware of threats anywhere in India, or even abroad; a hit against an Indian Armed Forces facility, or any personnel, gives publicity and ego boost to independent, irregular forces supported by our adversaries.
Thus, even as the Lt Gen Philip Campose report is being considered for implementation, it isn’t easy to implement the physical security measures which have been recommended, particularly given the bureaucratic procedures for the smallest of projects.
Empowerment of the Service HQ has been done recently for executing such projects as security walls. However, the fact that hundreds of projects are languishing since the days when the first such irregular threats of the so called fedayeen appeared in 1999, does not make sense. The cost of tardiness and dilution of interest with passage of time is something the nation has had to pay dearly with lives.
Implementing Suggestions of Kargil Review Committee
Yet, it will only be fair to educate the public that a hundred percent guarantee against intrusions at the LoC, infiltration, or attacks in the hinterland against sensitive and soft targets is something no government or security system can ever give.
What is more important for institutions and organisations is to develop a sense of history, document lessons learnt from negative events, and ensure continuity in the process of strengthening physical security wherever required.
Is this happening?
Sadly, India lacks a sense of continuity, as functionaries are obsessed with personal achievements and ego issues most of the time. However, the government has done well to decentralise and empower the Armed Forces on some issues regarding national security. This should be an ongoing exercise without the kind of stops placed after initial empowerment carried out in 2001.
Perhaps, many of the unexecuted portions of the Kargil Review Committee, and the subsequent Group of Ministers reports need to be re-examined by a fresh Group of Ministers, after another experts committee has examined the context and relevance of these suggestions.
Countering Ceasefire Violation
While the government and the Army, along with other security forces, have done well in 2016 to contain the tide of extremist violence in the Valley, through well executed kinetic operations in challenging circumstances, the same cannot be said convincingly of things at the LoC. Suffering such frequent sniping casualties only reveals poor training and insufficiently constructed habitat and fighting infrastructure at the LoC.
The ceasefire has taken its toll on the Army’s understanding of LoC operations which are specialised in their own way. The public continues to suffer casualties due to shelling by the Pakistan Army.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, on a recent visit to the LoC, saw the public demanding community bunkers. There was a similar demand in 2002, well before the ceasefire. Our propensity to treat ceasefire or lack of violent action in any area as something guaranteed for perpetuity, robs us of the ability to perform better. These bunkers must now come up in all vulnerable areas on a priority basis.
Pragmatic Response to Uri-like Incidents
The Army did well to launch surgical strikes within ten days of Uri. However, to think that this will be the modus operandi, as a solution for all events after every such irregular action, sponsored by the Pakistan Army, is quite ridiculous. Now, there is more confidence palpable in both the government and the Army, to handle such an event and its aftermath in a more pragmatic way.
Many may not agree, but government’s ownership of such trans LoC operations enhances the Army's confidence immensely. I would go to the extent to claim that it was this rise in confidence which culminated in the ability of the Army to advise the government on how to withstand the Chinese pressure at Doklam.
Functioning as ‘One’ Unit
Watching and reading Pakistani media reveals just how much the Pakistani strategic experts were surprised by India’s handling of Doklam. It just reveals that once the political, military and diplomatic communities get their act together and function as ‘one’, we will always be in a win-win situation.
My recent long visits to Singapore and Israel’s strategic communities shows where we lack most – the inability to get our academia, military, diplomatic corps and governance experts to be on the same page. Therein lies the answer to comprehensive national security.
To say that our capability has transformed in a year would be strategic imprudence, but there is far more sensitivity today. Perhaps this is the appropriate time to also revisit the Army's transformation strategy evolved through 2005 to 2010. There is much that needs to be done, and shelving such an important approach can only rob the nation of a far better capacity to secure ourselves.
(The writer, a former GOC of the army’s 15 Corps, is former commander of the Uri-based Kala Pahar Brigade. He is now associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group. He can be reached at @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.)
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