A terror strike, a misdirected debate

Going by this viewpoint, the army is the sole repository of competence and commitment in anti-terror operations in the country.

Written by Abhinav Kumar | Updated: January 13, 2016 12:17 am
Pathankot, Pathankot air base, Pathankot air base attack, pathankot air force base, NIA, Jaish-e-Mohammad, kathua attack, samba attack, pathankot strike NIA team visited Kathua and Samba districts of Jammu region, where army and police facilities faced terror strikes last year.

In any democracy, a healthy debate on security issues is not merely expected, but is an imperative for successful policymaking and implementation. However, reactions to the recently concluded Pathankot operation, especially from a section of the Indian army, suggest that in the name of debate, we are seeing an unscrupulous propagation of turf interests and institutional egos in the shoddiest possible manner.

Lieutenant General (retired) H.S. Panag, writing in The Indian Express (‘Pathankot attack: A terror strike, some hard truths’, January 11), has based his criticism of the Pathankot operation on half truths, skilfully blended with outright speculation and typical fauji bluster. It is entirely in line with recent trends by retired army officers to bulldoze public opinion on any issue, including Orop, by questioning the patriotism and, at other times, the professionalism of those opposed to their views. Going by this viewpoint, the army is the sole repository of competence and commitment in anti-terror operations in the country. All other institutions, especially the police and the paramilitary, must recognise this “fact”, even if this “fact” flies in the face of the history of anti-terror operations in India.

Criticism of the Pathankot operation is based on two arguments. First, there was credible actionable intelligence about the attack on the airbase. Second, the airbase commander and his superiors in the Indian Air Force and in the government of India made an error of judgement in not relying on local army assets and calling for the National Security Guard (NSG) instead.

Dealing with the second issue first, according to Panag, placing armed forces troops under the command of the NSG has an “adverse effect on morale”. I guess concern for the morale of the army, as defined by its retired generals, should take precedence over the security of our national assets and the safety of our citizens. God help us if this dictum was to become the foundation of our national security policy.

One would expect Panag to be aware that the IG operations of the NSG is himself a serving major general of the Indian army. Why the morale of the army should be lowered by this arrangement is baffling to say the least. Or, is it Panag’s case that the army sends substandard officers on deputation to an organisation such as the NSG that is of such vital importance to the country? If that is the case, perhaps there needs to be an external audit of the HR practices of the Indian army.

According to Panag, a unified command, headed naturally by an army officer, is the panacea for all anti-terror situations. Does the Indian army readily share its standard operating procedure (SOP) on anti-terror operations and vital installation security with other agencies? How frequently do the units of the Indian army carry out mock drills with other agencies to test these SOPs? The answer is very little. Having served as police chief of Haridwar and Dehradun, two districts with a substantial presence of the armed forces, I can categorically state that this is not the case. Other than units that are specifically earmarked for counter-insurgency operations, the Indian army is an extremely rigid institution to deal with fast-emerging anti-terrorist situations that call for speed and flexibility and inter-operability with other agencies. The NSG is an agency where the armed forces, paramilitary and police officers work together and train together — precisely for such exigencies.

For army officers, both serving and retired, to question the wisdom of deploying the NSG in the Pathankot operation is institutional cussedness and myopia of the worst kind. Also, as the successful experience of Punjab militancy and anti-Naxal operations suggest, there is no substitute for a well-equipped and well-motivated police force in tackling both counter-insurgency and individual terror operations. The contrasting experiences of Operation Bluestar and Operation Black Thunder are a case in point. The gung ho military approach often may be a cure worse than
the disease.

Coming to the issue of advance warning, the role of SP Gurdaspur is under investigation, and quite rightly so. Unless Panag is privy to information that the rest of us are not, it is extremely irresponsible on his part to allege that there was specific credible warning of the attack. The Indian army itself has faced attacks on its bases in recent times, such as the 2002 attack on Kaluchak, which have taken it by surprise initially and then a similar timeframe was required to isolate and neutralise the terrorists, as was done in the Pathankot operation. Institutional memory is short in our country and practically non-existent when it comes to examining one’s own failings.

Of late, morale has become a catch-all phrase for our generals. It is a measure of how out-of-date some of our soldiers are, that an operation that showcased cooperation in the best possible manner between the armed forces and civilian agencies, that resulted in limited casualties and no loss of strategic assets, is being decried by them as a failure because they didn’t get an exclusive opportunity to strut their stuff. Surely, the armed forces are not that short of real enemies so as to create and tilt at windmills.

The author is a serving IPS officer.

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First Published on: January 13, 2016 12:05 am
  1. A
    A K
    Jan 31, 2016 at 4:34 pm
    Intelligence is the key to success in any operation and the agencies mandated to collect and analyze the same are manned by Police personnel. Action specially to counter terrorist attacks is the forte of Armed forces though they have been repeatedly strangulated by lack of intelligence and equipment. As far as morale is concerned, the public dealing of a Police person and a soldier has entirely different motivating factors which need no elaboration. This charade to prove one's superiority has its seed in zero authority and total accountability of the Armed forces via a via the ruling elite and their mandarins. Abhinav's article is another step in the direction of obfuscating the issue of building own competence.
    Reply
    1. R
      Riding the
      Jan 13, 2016 at 3:46 am
      The author is a serving IPS officer. Says it all. Let me ask him, in which country and which operation does a precedence of placing armed forces under command of a police organization exist? Irrespective of persons manning it, NSG is a police organization. As regards the efficiency, commitment and competence is concerned, is there ANY doubt in anyone's minds that the army is better than the police and PMF? Why else is the army called out when they fail. Ask any riot victim, and they will tell you the sense of relief when the army is called out. Why?
      Reply
      1. S
        Sb
        Jan 13, 2016 at 2:53 pm
        Just laid bare your biases, that's all my dear Sir! And gave the nation another reason to doubt the hegemony of IAS-IPS nexus... Only those who share your vested interest in protecting/ promoting their turf will agree with you...
        Reply
        1. V
          Vijay Rajvaidya
          Jan 14, 2016 at 12:37 am
          I am glad a serving police officer wrote this article. I felt exactly same when I read General Panag's article on Pathankot operation, followed by Ajai Shukla's. In my opinion, army should be kept isolated from domestic operations as much as possible. These are the jobs for Police or special forces line NSG. There is another matter of grave concern which Pathankot attack has exposed. It's the lack of security at the airforce base. It was shocking to note that IAF doesn't have security cameras installed. Shouldn't defense installations have security cameras with automatic monitoring and video analytics in place? Shouldn't NTRO be setting standards of video surveillance in every sensitive government installations? I hope somebody looks into this.
          Reply
          1. K
            K SHESHU
            Jan 13, 2016 at 11:06 am
            There has been a lack of co-ordination from government level to army and police level, from higher level to the lower level. There is no use mudslinging each other. At least from now on, there should be concert efforts to nip such incidents in the bud. America has done it since 9/11 and why can't we?
            Reply
            1. K
              kumar
              Jan 13, 2016 at 1:47 pm
              Would you trust the credibility of an IPS officer or army officer. I think everyone knows the answer
              Reply
              1. A
                Anil Maheshwari
                Jan 13, 2016 at 7:12 am
                Brilliant! A halo has been created around army. It has umed to be sacrosanct and therefore, no body can question the army. The fact is that army men speak of others in contempt as civilians. The retired army officers on TV debates have often go berserk. The writer has rightly put the issue in the right perspectives.
                Reply
                1. A
                  Anurag Shukla
                  Jan 13, 2016 at 1:04 pm
                  Another incidence of the internecine conflicts between the armed forces of India,sapping the energies which should be better directed externally towards the common enemy. Two points of contention are crystallising in the article and the comments thereon with authors polarised on predictable lines. The first one is regarding professional competence. Leaving aside the present event since the facts are yet to emerge clearly. Take any crisis situation India has faced, calamitous, war like or internal conflict. Where the buck stopped and how it was stopped is there for all to see. It can be elaborated ad nauseum but that will only add to the acrimony. Second is the 'atude' problem(sic). Predictable in an environment where the ones who clear the mess always and everytime,find themselves out of favour.Not with the people of India,thankfully but with the people who matter since thankfully again,the Army remains out of their clutches. Neither the politicians nor the Army have any use for each other except in crisis situations. The angst is bound to show.
                  Reply
                  1. C
                    Col S
                    Jan 13, 2016 at 3:51 am
                    Regret that TERROR is defined by different people based on their ability. Attack on PATHANKOT AIR BASE was by no standards a TERROR STRIKE but ATTACK on the COUNTRY . Wonder as to WHEN our journalists will read a bit on DEFENCE . If this a TERROR STRIKE , WHAT is attack on the country? In their WHIMS to please NSA and Political masters. this HORROR incident and failed OPERATION is being TURNED into a virtuestead of using it as a n ALARM, debates centre on FORGET and FORGIVE, ,GO tO SLEEP. CHEERS for such opinion makers.
                    Reply
                    1. D
                      Deepak Sinha
                      Jan 14, 2016 at 1:21 pm
                      I am not quite sure what the author wishes to suggest or why his angst against those criticising the poor tactical conduct of the operation. Off course it may have been because the NSA , a former IPS officer, was found wanting in his attempt at directly handling tactical CT operation which was beyond his experience or professional competence.. The author also doesn't quite understand either the NSG organization or its tasking. The Special Action Group from the NSG which was involved in these operations is completely manned by the Army. It is organized and trained for Hostage Rescue/Anti- Hijack/ Anti- Kidnapping intervention operations, not search and destroy tasks that it was made to do in Pathankot. So what joint Police-Army cooperation is he talking about? The IG(OPs) who was placed in command of the operation may have been an Army officer but he was only a Staff Officer and not competent to conduct tactical operations. This goes against the ethos and SOPs of the army. By attempting to garner credit and probably to show up the Armed Forces and also add to his supposedly famed operational abilities the NSA attempted to utilize the NSG without involving the army and ended up with egg on his face. Hopefully he won't repeat his mistake. Finally lets not forget the terrorists were neutralised by the Army who were then subsequently called in for the task.
                      Reply
                      1. d
                        dv1936
                        Jan 13, 2016 at 10:07 pm
                        Mud slinging should not be the issue, the issue is that you have very cunning enemy. India needs to improve its response to such incursions. Begin with intelligence coordination.
                        Reply
                        1. S
                          Sandeep Kumar
                          Jan 14, 2016 at 4:35 am
                          The w article is as expected of a pompous IPS officer who rarely gets his posterior off his seat... the only truth in it is that the armed forces is not at all short of enemies.... from within the country.... and sadly, the ones who are in power.... no wonder the forces are in shape they way there are..... despite all efforts from within the organization to uphold whatever they have..... My advice to the khaki b.... at least respect the last bastion the country has.....
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                          1. I
                            indian
                            Jan 13, 2016 at 9:44 am
                            1. There is no need for a generalisation that the Armed Forces are superior under all conditions and to face all types of threats. Specialised forces are created for specific purposes and need to be used for them. 2. Inter-insution coordination is a moot point and should be clarified for all such situations. 3. Security is a multi-disciplinary subject and incl not only military power, but also internal ets, diplomatic, economic and cultural forces.
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                            1. J
                              Jagjit Sidhoo
                              Jan 14, 2016 at 1:55 pm
                              I am amazed those who have no experience of fighting have become experts in terrorism Mera Bharat Mahan
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                              1. M
                                Mohan Bhandari
                                Jan 16, 2016 at 3:30 am
                                Abhinav.You may remember me.Only thing I can say that the subject article is in poor taste, and certainly ,does NOT behove your intellectual calibre that I know of !
                                Reply
                                1. P
                                  Political Saurabh
                                  Jan 13, 2016 at 3:09 am
                                  Interesting counter view, healthy for the country. Jai Hind!
                                  Reply
                                  1. P
                                    PRONOB KUMAR
                                    Jan 13, 2016 at 3:20 pm
                                    First learn to handle a weapon straight and stop sucking up to your political masters. We will talk then.
                                    Reply
                                    1. P
                                      PRONOB KUMAR
                                      Jan 13, 2016 at 3:15 pm
                                      The reason when an IPS officer runs to look for Azam Khans cows is known. ..and amazed these officers sit on an arm chair to give opinions.
                                      Reply
                                      1. D
                                        David
                                        Jan 13, 2016 at 6:28 pm
                                        Don't forget we could bankrupt ourselves protecting every nook and corner and even if we could afford, its impossible. Solution, the enemy should fear our retaliation of double proportion.
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                                        1. B
                                          Brig Rajeev
                                          Jan 13, 2016 at 5:28 am
                                          Mr Sharma is enled to his opinion as a serving police officer. However, the fact remains that had the local Army Cdrs and units been entrusted with the operation, we might not be debating the issue at all. The fact is that the operation was ill conceived and therefore, botched up. Sharma also forgets that a large number of troops stationed at Mamun Cantt are trained and have anti-insurgency experience, first hand at that. Please be brave enough to face the facts rather than try and p your poor judgement on the army and its rank and file and above all, their capability.
                                          Reply
                                          1. R
                                            Ravi
                                            Jan 26, 2016 at 9:44 am
                                            It is an interesting read. True, internal security is primarily a police function. That Army has been involved in many states is unfortunate, although another police officer, Mr Marwah, wouldn't agree. It is true that any man who can be a police constable would not be an Army soldier. Similarly, almost nobody who can be an IPS would opt for the Services. So, in that paradigm, police should be a superior force. But the paradigm changes when it comes to management of violence, which requires leadership. The reaction of a serving police officer to Gen Panag's article reflects a deep prejudice and lack of understanding of the profession of Arms. There is much that can and must be improved in the Army. But for police to run down the Army would be disastrous, not just for the two organisations, but for the nation. Armed Forces have organisational strength, although they may not be getting the best available individuals. If it wasn't for Fauji bluster, Capt Batra wouldn't have opted to capture another objective after he conquered the first one. Respect that bluster, Mr Abhinav for our overall good. It would have been far more prudent to exercise discretion.
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