Lessons from Pathankot: Replicate J&K Model With Army in the Lead

Transparency by the Army on the step-by-step conduct of the Pathankot ops need of the hour, writes Syed Ata Hasnain.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Students take part in a candlelight vigil in Chandigarh, for the Indian soldiers killed in Pathankot air base attack. (Photo: Reuters/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

Some are calling Pathankot the worst-managed counter-terror operation in India in 30 years – despite intelligence being available. But, there is no doubt that in such operations there is huge unpredictability, a grey zone and multiple options for the employment of resources as well as several possible plans of action. And in the aftermath, nothing much will be achieved through blame game or political chest beating.

It is far better to immediately constitute a team of experts to propose more effective options for future operations. With perceived threats to other likely targets, transparency by the Army on the step-by-step conduct of the Pathankot operations is absolutely unnecessary.

Attacks Aimed at Demotivating Security Forces

An army person guards during the operation against the militants at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. (Photo: PTI)
An army person guards during the operation against the militants at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot. (Photo: PTI)

In the current environment, the experience of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) choice of targets seems to be the inspiration of India-focused terror groups like Jaish and Lashkar.

This strategy focuses demotivating armed forces and paramilitary forces and showing them in poor light. Mehran, Kamra and Peshawar were attacks where the TTP made significant achievements in this regard.

Replicate the J&K Model

An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier patrols near the fenced border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, southwest of Jammu. (Photo: Reuters)
An Indian Border Security Force (BSF) soldier patrols near the fenced border with Pakistan in Suchetgarh, southwest of Jammu. (Photo: Reuters)

We have the most outstanding model that combines Counter Insurgency and Counter Terror operations (CI/CT) in Jammu and Kashmir. This needs to become the starting point. Synergy between different forces was missing in Pathankot. This is available in plenty in J&K where there is a lot of trust as every force knows its role and gets its space as well as its bouquets and brickbats. Credit is shared in the media and in the records.

This synergy is due to two things.

First, most functionaries know each other, having worked for years together at different ranks. Second, an outstanding organisation for consultation, information sharing and post operation analysis exists, which has its footprints in similar clones down the chain to the district level.

In J&K, there have been numerous failures over the years but no one blames each other, knowing their respective strengths and weaknesses. Also, no one encroaches into the other’s known domain. For example, while intelligence is everyone’s domain, it is accepted that the J&K Police is the best source of actionable intelligence. In such circumstances, there is never a need to deploy a force from outside the existing theatre.

The J&K model needs to be replicated in north and central Punjab with some situation-based changes; from Pathankot to Ferozepur or a little farther south, the area can be divided into two zones with two core groups set up on the Jalandhar and Yol Corps HQ.

Resistance to Army Primacy

Security forces stand guard near a road barrier outside the air force base in Pathankot, Saturday, 2 January 2016. (Photo: AP)
Security forces stand guard near a road barrier outside the air force base in Pathankot, Saturday, 2 January 2016. (Photo: AP)

Resistance from the police, BSF or other forces to the primacy given to the Army should be expected and be brushed aside. The Army has the capability to set up joint mechanisms like no one else, with communications, logistics, mobility, liaison and advice. It has a huge cadre of officers and other ranks who are experienced in dealing with terror-related situations.

The example of resistance to the Army being the lead agency can be seen in the post-Gurdaspur scenario. Having eliminated three terrorists on its own on 27 July 2015, which was creditable, the Punjab Police did not feel the necessity of coordinating anti-terror schemes with the Army. This is why there wasn’t a single senior officer in charge in Pathankot.

It is ludicrous to state that a one-star rank officer was the overall commander. Who would take orders from him? And there would be many to upstage him at media briefs.

Army Must Be in Charge

Army personnel take positions on a rooftop of a building outside the airbase in Pathankot, Saturday, 2 January 2016. (Photo: AP)
Army personnel take positions on a rooftop of a building outside the airbase in Pathankot, Saturday, 2 January 2016. (Photo: AP)

The problem of command and control was definitely not created at New Delhi from where the tasking came. This problem is invariably created at the local level where self-important personalities cannot see eye-to-eye. They assess pay grades to decide who the overall commander is and cannot appreciate the capability of a force.

If this system continues, we will have many more negative events and will cut a sorry figure before the nation and the world. The Army does not operate under any other force – that much is clear. If it has to be fielded, then it is in charge. It must be in coordination with all other agencies in a synergised effort but without compromising on this principle.

Within this ambit, the system which exists in J&K involves the full dedicated control of operations in Srinagar city and district by the JK Police and CRPF and the same is replicated in Jammu.

For all other areas, including the security of the Army and Air Force assets, operations are conducted jointly with the Army in the lead. This flexibility needs to be established for different parts of the country which are under terror threat, especially Tier 2 cities. Local alarm schemes must also be rehearsed.

This is the direction in which the Indian security establishment needs to proceed. And with greater dedication, it must refine its intelligence and response.

(A former Corps Commander of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Gen Hasnain is associated with Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group)

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