Samba in 2013 and 2015; Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota in 2016; Kupwara in 2017; now, Jammu in 2018.
The bloody timeline of attacks on security installations in Jammu and Kashmir is a crude reminder of the repeated failures in fortifying garrisons from the suicide attackers. The army and the security forces have taken the hit where it hurts most – sometimes inside their own homes. Terrorists have entered family quarters in Jammu’s Sunjuwan Military Station recently, burnt down tents in Uri with unarmed soldiers sleeping inside two years ago.
Those are, but, two instances. The army has paid a heavy price for the monumental security breaches. Each attack should have strengthened the resolve to prevent a recurrence but it seems that the whole approach in guarding the sensitive installations along the border needs to be revisited. The attacks not only impact the morale of the armed forces battling a hostile enemy on the border and suicide squads in the hinterland but also leave a scar on the psyche of the nation. Body bags of soldiers falling in their own citadels script the story of colossal failure of the security establishment.
Around 50 soldiers have died in such attacks since 2014. The terrorists always manage to sneak in. The attack on the Pathankot air base in 2016 had the authorities scamper to install new security measures. The Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) were revised and funds were released for augmenting perimeter security of all the sensitive installations. But many of the recommendations of a tri-service team led by former army vice chief Lieutenant-General Philip Campose remained in the sphere of planning. Behind the tall claims of oiling the decision-making machinery for smooth delivery, on the ground lies the same old story of more talk, less work.
No doubt all the suicide attackers who enter army premises are killed by the valiant soldiers but not before they have wreaked havoc. The army’s standard defence of high casualties is that maximum damage is caused during the first contact with the intruders. The army’s engagement with terrorists in these battles is replete with acts of individual courage. However, it cannot afford casualties even in the first burst of attack. There is clearly something amiss in the whole approach towards perimeter security. The army is executing the iron-fisted approach of the Modi government in dealing with Pakistan on the border and terrorists in the Valley and across the Pir Panjal. The ceasefire along the LoC practically ceases to exist with violations reported every day.
The attack on Uri garrison led to surgical strikes by the army at multiple locations across the LoC but that clearly turned out to be more of a saving the pride operation rather than leading to border peace. There have been calls to raise the level of response. There is no limit for scaling up military action. The government has put the onus on the armed forces to settle the issue with Pakistan by claiming that the local commanders have been given a free hand to deal with situation on the ground. The Modi government prides itself for the fact that the hands of the army have been freed, that there are no limitations imposed by politics on them.
The problem, however, is that army’s role is limited. The repeated phrase of giving a befitting reply sounds hollow because every response is followed by another, sometimes bigger attack. The army is clearly under pressure in Jammu and Kashmir and amidst that its attention is stretched to the northern and eastern borders where Chinese patrols have become far more aggressive after the Doklam stand-off.
The troops are toiling on the western borders, the Valley is on the boil where the political situation is most volatile in the wake of frequent stone pelting on soldiers. Through off-the-record briefings, the army claimed that it has killed 20 Pakistan army soldiers in the last 45 days on the LoC. The Pakistan army responded by claiming it has destroyed an Indian post and killed five soldiers. The army cannot be dragged into the game of one-upmanship on the border which can go into an endless spin.