There is growing concern about increasingly frequent attacks on our defence bases, especially the breaching of perimeters. While the concern is genuine, it should be tempered with better understanding of the challenges faced by base commanders. Most breaches entail some failures at a tactical level — but all slip-ups are subjected to rigorous post-mortems, defaulters taken to task and appropriate lessons learnt. Yet, defences are never perfect as attackers keep innovating; hence, simply guarding bases is a repetitive activity which leads to complacency.
Our defence camps are from a pre-insurgency era. Their location is a function of land availability. Otherwise, why should an armoured division get sited in Hisar, where the first challenge is extreme weather? Many of our defence installations are hemmed-in within civilian areas; some have highways passing through them. In outlying areas, some installations have become real estate destinations, despite initially being in barren or water-logged areas. As a result, there have been rampant encroachments, making a mockery of mandatory safety distances.
Besides free access, our bases have structures in their vicinity that provide a platform for reconnaissance, infiltration, even stand-off attacks. With every incident, there is renewed focus on these but little is done to remove them. Momentary concern subsides and new encroachments spring up.
Recently, there has been talk of a study considered a panacea or a “silver bullet” to counter attacks on our bases. The study maps major problem areas in security infrastructure, manning patterns and response mechanisms. However, recommendations for hardening security entail huge expenditure and long gestation periods. While we can release more funds and simplify procedures, we must decide on prioritisation and optimum security levels as attackers now switch from Uri on the LoC to Nagrota deeper in. No defence line is impregnable — a determined attacker will find chinks and, if aided by fifth columnists, can be vectored into target locations. There is a clamour for technical surveillance; but the human element is relevant.
It is a harsh reality that in most attacks like Mumbai (26/11), Pathankot, Uri and Nagrota, there was considerable evidence of local help. Yet, we have not been able to book such elements. There is no closure on follow-up investigations. In some cases, technical evidence like GPS has been mishandled, resulting in obliteration of vital data. The detention of many apparently mentally deranged persons in the vicinity of our bases is another aspect for analysis. However, our current system allows such detainees to be released after perfunctory screening.
While we look at long-term measures, basics remain relevant. Recent helpful initiatives include “Swacch Paridhi”, maintenance of perimeters which includes re-location of trees that provide a Tarzan-like entry. Another exercise is “Paridhi Suraksha”, development of perimeter patrolling tracks, better surveillance with activities like riding. While Pathankot had a security wall, most bases only have a basic fence. Security hardening must go with layered surveillance, warning and response mechanisms.
Alongside, an example of the human element shows in the story of a “jagruk Hindustani”, a simple carpenter at Arnia, who, on April 15, alerted the army and took a soldier on his own bike to point out four trained terrorists waiting to move to Samba. The ensuing encounter led to the elimination of all the terrorists. The villager was honoured with a commendation and is a soldier now. Another such incident was near Udhampur, where two civilians overpowered a terrorist, earning a police job and richly-deserved gallantry awards.
Borders areas are nefarious for smuggling narcotics, arms, even cattle. This is worrying. These areas deserve the best administration and police; currently, very few IAS and IPS officers are posted there. Almost all attacks have seen terrorists travelling, taking lifts in civilian vehicles, even spending a night near a camp to strike at dawn. While hardening bases is important, for security, we must encourage”a “jagruk Hindustani” approach as well.