Sunjwan Attack Reveals What’s Wrong With Army’s Security System

Most measures taken to keep army camps secure are not implemented due to bureaucracy, writes Syed Ata Hasnain.

5 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

Suicide attack squads form a part of hybrid war strategy of non-state actors and very often of nations, such as Pakistan, for the purpose of proxy war. The latter believes in targeting India to impose heavy casualties and cause out-of-proportion investment of deployment of troops for security of garrisons and institutions.

‘Successful’ suicide attacks provide a perception of ascendancy to the ‘sponsors’ and leave the victims far more cautious.

Return of ‘Suicide Squads’

The attack on the Sunjwan army camp, the fifth major attack in the chain since Gurdaspur, in July 2015 is a manifestation of the above strategy of Pakistan, which commenced in 1999. Various lessons were learnt from the attacks that occurred in the period 1999-2004 with numerous inquiries instituted to analyse why there were lapses if any.

Recommendations for better security infrastructure and mechanism also included more effective standard operating procedures (SOPs) and surveillance and response equipment. The so-called ‘fedayeen’ attacks subsequently ceased but returned in earnest from 2014 onward with military camps closer to the LoC and the international boundary becoming the targets.

The ‘success’ of suicide attackers is usually because of them being small in number and radically motivated to achieve their task of intrusion. Personal security for them is secondary, in fact nonexistent as they come prepared to die.

They take advantage of two infirmities in the Army’s security system. First, that all army camps do not have security infrastructure to meet the threat. Second, because Army units remain in a state of dilemma about the quantum of troops that they need to secure their camps as against those needed for execution of the main responsibility at the border.

What Makes Jammu’s Army Camps Insecure?

The military camps in Jammu city remain particularly vulnerable because the distance to the IB is just 30 km, sufficiently short for a suicide squad to infiltrate and execute its task in a single night.

An ideal example of vulnerability and incognisance of the threat is the Army camp at the border town of Uri (6 km from the LoC), now infamous for the attack on 18 September 2016. The military camp there has a road for civil traffic passing right through its centre with no security wall.

A security wall with lighting was demanded in 2003 to allow better protection with lesser manpower. What was approved was a single-layer wire fence with some lighting. The efforts to get Uri a security wall did not succeed for 13 years while it and many other similar camps remained vulnerable to suicide attacks.

Sunjwan camp lies in the middle of Jammu city with civil habitation touching its periphery. This makes merging of suicide squads with the public and awaiting opportunity, much easier. It was first attacked in 2003 by a suicide squad but continued to remain vulnerable without requisite infrastructure. A security wall does exist there but is perforated with holes, which are plugged by iron sheets.

Jammu is a peace station with Army units having families in their garrisons. Their children study in local Army schools, which too are all extremely vulnerable. Jammu has numerous satellite military stations from Samba to Brahmana di Bari, Kaluchak, Ratnuchak, Miran Saheb and Nagrota.

The total number of vulnerable areas (VAs) and vulnerable points (VPs) for such attacks may exceed 250, approximately. All of them need security infrastructure, smart fences, lighting and night surveillance equipment besides extensive deployment to secure the institutions such as hospitals, schools and family quarters.

Bureaucracy – Why Army Security Measures Fall Through

The Pathankot attack on the first day of 2016 led to the setting up of the Philip Campose Committee to undertake a comprehensive study for the measures needed for the security of all military garrisons; it was not limited to J&K but extended to Punjab, Delhi and many other areas where there is almost equal vulnerability. A sum of Rs 800 crore was allotted as the first tranche for the purpose of fulfilling the recommendations of the committee.

However, despite financial resources being allocated, without matching procedures for suitable expenditure, they remain worthless. The defence works procedure may prove to be even more cumbersome than the much touted defence procurement procedure.

The latter in recent times has undergone some major changes but ‘defence works’ as a domain, remains rooted in archaic bureaucratic methods, which prevent any timely manifestation of the projects. If the Uri security wall could not be prioritised for 13 years, the feasibility of optimum expenditure of Rs 800 crore in two years may be asking too much of the system.

It has been learnt from unconfirmed sources that Rs 1,400 crore has now been earmarked for the improvement of defence security infrastructure in rear areas. This will probably meet the same fate as the first tranche.

The long and short of it is that a few facts need to be understood. First, that there is a threat of suicide squads from Pakistan; it is not going to disappear and it is not limited to Jammu and Kashmir. Institutions such as Indian Military Academy, Dehradun or even Army Public Schools deep in the hinterland, IAF bases, high-profile equipment intensive formations in Punjab, if targeted, will provide much satisfaction to Pakistan and its squads.

Second, there may have been no actual declaration of war and we may be subjected to a ‘hybrid war situation’. In such a scenario, the Indian bureaucratic system needs to rise above the ordinary and transform itself. Since money does not seem to be in short supply for such priorities, it is the procedures which must allow the manifestation of suitable infrastructure for the security of our VAs and VPs.

Get the Wheels Turning

Our adversary’s intent is to create a situation here similar to the one its Army faced from internal threats from unfriendly terror groups. If that is understood, the urgent nature of the requirement will be better appreciated.

We need to remember that a determined suicide squad can penetrate almost anywhere, but to reduce the chances of its intrusion and impose damage control in the event of successful intrusion, we need a transformative approach to the entire gamut of security of VAs and VPs. Investigative reports aside, a work culture towards achieving this is mandatory.

(The writer is a retired Lieutenant General in the Indian Army. He is now associated with the 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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