Behind the grim toll 2016 has inflicted on Indian soldiers and police personnel in Kashmir lies one, little-noticed fact: Almost half of the 87 fatalities, the worst since 2009, can be attributed to events like the Uri and Nagrota attacks, which involved flaws in basic training or poor perimeter security at bases. This newspaper has revealed that the terrorists who attacked the XVI Corps headquarters scaled its wall simply by climbing a tree growing alongside the officer’s mess. The technique was almost identical to that used by terrorists in Pathankot, where they took advantage of Eucalyptus trees next to the boundary wall. Even though J&K Governor N.N. Vohra had ordered a security review of all bases after the Pathankot attack, the military experts who audited the Nagrota base were either careless or remiss. That terrorists wish to kill Indian soldiers does not surprise; the failure to address glaring problems, though, is shocking.
Lapses like these could be condoned if they did not involve the lives of women and men who serve the country — and if the means to protect them were not so easily available and affordable. In the wake of the Pathankot attack, the ministry of defence had tasked former army Vice-Chief Lieutenant-General Philip Campose with studying the problem. General Campose’s report recommended rectification of the training of base security teams, as well as acquisition of technologies like night-vision devices and movement sensors. These technologies were not purchased when the Uri attack took place; they were not available at Nagrota either.
In any other country, these failures would have sparked a national scandal. In India, the deaths of soldiers barely provoke concern — a silence passed off as patriotism. The country has not been told why there was no perimeter wall at Uri, though funds had been found to build a golf course there. In the absence of accountability, it ought to surprise no-one that neither the ministry of defence nor the army leadership feel any sense of urgency to rectify the situation. Thus, a toxic culture of mediocrity runs through the executive leadership of institutions that are India’s ultimate guardians. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar needs to let sunlight into the stables, and then set to work in earnest with shovel and broom.