The venom spilt over the conduct of ground operations in eliminating six Pakistani terrorists who had infiltrated into the Pathankot air base is astonishing. There was an unfortunate tendency to comment on each and every aspect of the operation, both by seasoned veterans who have fought many such encounters and by arm chair strategists who possibly haven’t seen a rifle, even though most such commentators had little to no access to any worthwhile information on what actually happened at the ground level. One worthy even compared the operation to the disaster of 1962!
… why we as Indians are so critical of ourselves? Does it have something to do with the fact that foreign powers have ruled over us for a thousand years…
Conjectures were passed of as facts and personal opinions became a substitute for any form of analytical reasoning. Yes, there are lessons to be learnt from the Pathankot attack, as indeed there are in any operation conducted, but that should not take away from the fact that six highly trained and motivated terrorists were eliminated and not allowed to achieve even an iota of their operational objectives. Their handlers in Pakistan must certainly be a worried lot. On our part, we need to be more analytical and dispassionate while discussing such issues.
There is no gain saying the fact that our borders must be better protected. The BSF is a capable and efficient force, but it needs to be better led. To have officers of the IPS cadre commanding such troops is a travesty, as a police officer is not trained for combat. That is the first intervention which needs to be taken. It is high time that the BSF is converted to a paramilitary force by giving it leadership from the Army on the lines of the Assam Rifles. No longer can the country afford the luxury of keeping the BSF as a police force. There is also a need for political insulation of the BSF, to ensure that illegal cross border activities are eliminated.
Most commentators have assumed that the intelligence was perfect and pin point. That was not the case and can never be so. The probability of Pathankot being attacked was very high. The Air Force base was certainly a potential target. But the attack could well have been aimed at a civilian target to create a hostage situation. Pre positioning the NSG for such a possible contingency was prudent. What would have been the impact had a school been attacked? Post the event, to presume that the Air Force base was the only target, betrays a lack of analytical thought. But astonishingly, what everyone seems to have missed out is the statement given by the Gurdaspur SP, Mr Salwinder Singh, whose vehicle the terrorists commandeered. He had stated that the terrorists had made away with his mobile phone. A cursory analysis of the call records made through this phone would have pinpointed the location of the terrorists. Yet this apparently simple step was not taken, indicating a laxity in progressing a lead which could well have altered the course of subsequent operations.
The BSF is a capable and efficient force, but it needs to be better led. To have officers of the IPS cadre commanding such troops is a travesty, as a police officer is not trained for combat.
When the terrorists struck in the wee hours of 2 January, they came first into contact with some unarmed DSC personnel. In the initial contact, five DSC personnel were killed in action. This is an unacceptable loss of life, but the discourse shifted to the age of such personnel, imputing thereby that these former soldiers were to old to effectively perform their task. This is an unwarranted slur cast on the DSC. Had these men been armed, we would have seen a different outcome to the initial encounter. When a high state of alert was sounded, it was but obvious that an attack on the base, should it come about, would entail terrorists sneaking into the base by scaling the high perimeter wall. The DSC should have been forewarned of such a possibility.
At the very least, each man should have been issued a weapon for the duration of the threat and the troops briefed on likely scenarios and threat responses. The question to be asked is why this was not done? Why were the troops without weapons? Were they briefed? A deafening silence prevails over this aspect. Of equal importance is another question. If the Air Force base commander felt that he had insufficient forces to guard against a forced entry into the base from the outer perimeter wall, what did he do about it. Did he coordinate with the Army? Did he express his fears to his superior officers in command. And if he did so, what was the outcome? These questions must be asked to ensure that adequate synergy is developed between the Services, to obviate the occurrence of such like incidents.
It must be appreciated that after the tragic loss of five DSC personnel, the terrorists were effectively contained. This must be a cause of great angst to their Pakistani handlers, who would have sent their very best lot to create a situation on the lines of the attacks carried out by them in the air and naval bases in Pakistan. With six fully armed terrorists, who were prepared to commit suicide, the amount of mayhem that could have been created is incalculable. That the terrorists failed to do so, bespeaks of cowardice, pusillanimity and gutlessness of a high order on their part and of an effective counter terrorist operation by own forces on the other. Killing unarmed persons is one thing, but taking on regular armed troops is another.
It must be appreciated that after the tragic loss of five DSC personnel, the terrorists were effectively contained. This must be a cause of great angst to their Pakistani handlers…
A lot of media space was also occupied by the fact that the operation continued for three days. That would have been relevant, if the operation was time sensitive. In such operations, once the terrorists have been confined to a particular area, then time is of little consequence. However, media handling assumes importance. In the instant case, media management was poor, which gave undue propaganda value to those that sponsored the attack, indirectly indicting the security forces containing the situation. We are now living i the information age and it is incumbent on the part of commanders at all levels to effectively portray their operations. We are living in an age where a war can well be won by kinetic means but lost in the perception domain. Remedial action on the above is called for urgently. Perception management has to be treated as a part of operations.
Finally, we need to ask ourselves why we as Indians are so critical of ourselves? Does it have something to do with the fact that foreign powers have ruled over us for a thousand years and we have lost the ability to appreciate our strengths and our successes? When our ladies win competitions such as the Miss World and Miss Universe titles, we are dismissive of such achievements, casting aspersions on cosmetic manufacturers, trying to sell their products. When our cricket team wins, we talk about pitches being fixed to suit the team. The time has come to accept the fact that we have great strength at all levels. Overestimating our capabilities is no doubt harmful. Equally damaging is underrating our strengths. Fix the glitches, certainly, but don’t berate your performance at every step.