Homeland Security

What the Nagrota Terrorist Assault Augurs for our Military
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Dec , 2016

It is accepted conventional wisdom the world over, ever since well-known military theorist, Carl Von Clausewitz, first articulated the aphorism in the late 18th Century that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” In 2004 however, it was the Chinese who turned this theory on its head by publishing their concept of “Three Warfares” which integrates the use of psychological, media and legal warfare in peace-time to achieve their strategic objectives without having to resort to violent confrontation. As the leading thinker on this subject, Prof Stefan Halper of Cambridge University states “it is a dynamic three dimensional war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means.”

By using low –level religious zealots with rudimentary weapons training to carry out suicide attacks against military outposts is a win-win situation, whichever way the operation pans out.

However, one must grant the Pakistani military leadership full points for having taken this concept to greater heights with the added use of proxy combatants that even the Chinese will find difficult to scale. The spate of attacks in the recent past at Pathankot, Uri, and now, Nagrota, aimed specifically at military establishments is a classic example of this strategy at work. By using low –level religious zealots with rudimentary weapons training to carry out suicide attacks against military outposts is a win-win situation, whichever way the operation pans out. If it succeeds, as it did in Uri, or is even partially successful, as it was at Pathankot and in Nagrota, the Army is shown up in bad light; doubts are created as to its quality of training, motivation and abilities and, worst of all, it is bound to be afflicted with a loss of self -belief and lowered morale.

If on the other hand, the operation fails, as it did at Pampore the last time around, the loss is of a few semi-trained foot soldiers whose exploits can still be inflated and exploited for the cause through social media to incite and gain followers by peddling a false narrative of martyrdom and sacrifice. In any event the Pakistan State and the Army remains untouched and blameless, thereby avoiding international opprobrium. This is the very reason why this strategy has been employed by Pakistan ever since the 1990’s with varying degrees of success.  Its’ duplicity in Afghanistan has however thrown the veil off its machinations and the International Community has, with few exceptions, become increasingly suspicious of its actions, especially the linkages of the military establishment with terror groups.

Furthermore, the trans-border raid post Uri and punitive fire- assaults along the LOC have to some extent made it plain that the Indian Government will not succumb to either the consequences of escalation or nuclear blackmail. Unfortunately, while they may have had a sobering effect on the Pakistan establishment, they have not deterred them from continuing their attempt to use asymmetric warfare to their advantage.

The more important and serious issues pertain to the existing state of our defence establishment. Without undertaking a complete overhaul of this gargantuan establishment, Mr. Modi can rest assured that all his bellicosity and bravado will have little meaning.

Therefore our Government has little choice but to continue with its policy of punitive use of controlled force, including trans-border covert operations, along with focused pro-active diplomatic measures. In fact these efforts will need to be ratcheted up further till it brings about a change in institutional behaviour within the Pakistan establishment. However, that will only deal with a part of the problem. The more important and serious issues pertain to the existing state of our defence establishment. Without undertaking a complete overhaul of this gargantuan establishment, Mr. Modi can rest assured that all his bellicosity and bravado will have little meaning. He may be tempted to avoid drastic reforms by increasing his reliance on trans-border raids to target terrorist launch pads and bases, but that can only end in further embarrassment if one of those operations goes wrong, as it is likely to, given the fact these are very high risk operations with extremely limited margins for error.

The Nagrota incident must be understood in its correct perspective and we must remind ourselves that administrative locations, such as the one attacked, which are in the rear tend to be vulnerable. It is just not feasible to provide the quantum of troops actually required to provide fool-proof security to all such establishments. Moreover, if technical assets are available and used, they too have severe limitations and can be circumvented. However, whatever be the justifications advanced by the Army, and the conditions within the other Services is unlikely to be any different, they are squarely to blame for lapses that have occurred over the past year or two, be it the ambush in Manipur or the earlier Pampore and Uri fiascos. It isn’t as if our forces are confronting some new tactics evolved by terror groups, we have faced and dealt with far worse over the years. However brave and committed our officers and men have been, and we have seen such great sacrifice yet again, there is a need to face the fact that our units must accept responsibility for their undue complacency, non-adherence to SOP’s, outdated tactics and a visible lack of motivation.

While there is little doubt that the Army Chief will once again rush down to study the issue first hand, there is also little that is likely to change. The Study conducted by Lt Gen Philip Campose (Retd) in the aftermath of the Pathankot fiasco has been gathering dust till now. As per some reports action is now being belatedly taken to push its recommendations. The truth however is that these recommendations can only treat the symptoms of the malaise. What is required is a complete transformation of the system including steps like appointing of a Chief of Defence Staff as a single point military advisor, establishment of joint theatre headquarters and actual integration of the military into the Ministry of Defence. All previously recommended by various committees o the years and quite doable, but stalled by those likely to be adversely impacted within the existing civil-military bureaucracy.

Following old style land norms for establishing cantonments make it extremely difficult to secure and defend such locations against militant attacks and need to be reviewed.

In addition, apart from institutional changes, there is also a need for change in mindsets within the military. If technology and state of the art equipment is to be given primacy of place in our doctrine, there should be little doubt that drastic reduction in the size of forces and organizational structures are unavoidable. With an increasingly adverse security situation the military needs to reassess its land needs and look towards a new model for quartering of its troops. Following old style land norms for establishing cantonments make it extremely difficult to secure and defend such locations against militant attacks and need to be reviewed.

The immediate cause for this deterioration is, unfortunately, poor leadership, greatly accentuated by a fractured and increasingly disgruntled officer cadre. That having been said, the real culprit has been the assaults on the military by an uncaring and unethical political-bureaucratic nexus that has greatly reduced the lure of the Services among the young. Their deliberate attempts to degrade the military, like lowered disability pensions and even the newly created controversy over “equivalence” wherein military ranks have been further downgraded against their civilian counterparts for functional purposes, have finally started to bear fruit.

The huge shortages in officer ranks within the Army and Navy, coupled with lack of suitable volunteers in the officer ranks, the Indian Military Academy is reportedly running at 50% capacity and the alarming spike in those opting for premature retirement do not augur well for the establishment. This lack of motivation can only be further aggravated by attempts being made to force officers and men to continue in service despite their unwillingness to do so. Mr. Modi would do well to tackle these problems at the earliest, instead of using hyperbole to draw focus away from the issues that need urgent remedial action.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Deepak Sinha

is a second generation para trooper and author of “Beyond the Bayonet: Indian Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century.” He is currently a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation.

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4 thoughts on “What the Nagrota Terrorist Assault Augurs for our Military

  1. Pakistan has definitely perfected the art of use of terrorism as their potent weapon against India. They have also effectively used psychological warfare and media against India, with handsome dividends. As per Pak Press reports Pakistan intends to work in concert with extremists, disaffected section of society and use all stratagems to widen the schisms on religious and ideological ground. It will find willing collaborators among secessionists, Maoists, ISIS ideology supporters, Indian media, NGOs and disadvantaged section of society. Poor governance, corruption and unemployment further help to fuel such protests and movements. Use of terrorism or low cost warfare should not come as surprise to us, we are now faced with this for over three decades. Therefore, it is pointless to bemoan about such a strategy of Pakist What is worrisome that we have not been able to equip and organize ourselves against such threats over the years and still continue to grapple with shortages of basic equipment and tool. Our emphasis must change from more boots to smart modern border management based on technology. Irrespective of shortage of officers, the quality of intake must not be compromised. The previous Govts and bureaucrats are solely to be blamed for lack of combat readiness, inadequacies, disgruntlement and demoralization amongst ranks and file and loss of valuable lives every day.

  2. A well reasoned article Deepak. The malaise is at many levels. Firstly is the inability of the Government to have a comprehensive policy in place to deal with Pakistan. It’s a knee jerk affair sans logical direction. The International community doesn’t give a damn shit about terrorism as long as it doesn’t hit them. I am talking about the white world. Pakistan has its weaknesses, there are economic weaknesses where in it cant sustain its armed forces in high state of readiness and alert for a long period of time. We have larger strike elements compared to them and we need to use them passively to keep the Pak army moving by positioning them appropriately North to South. Bleed them economically. We need to keep the LOC activated. The BSF should be placed under the command of the Army in Punjab. TA Battalions should be employed in the second tier to prevent infiltration of terrorists. Rather BSF BOPs should be placed under command of TA battalions. The TA does the job in the most sincere manner, that’s been my experience. As far as our own establishments are concerned we need wall and fortify our areas. Our troops and officers should always carry arms in the areas prone to be hit by such attacks. Well the Army does need an overhaul, especially the Infantry – we are still a WW II Army.

  3. A well reasoned article.

    With the capacity of Pakistani non state actors to come to deeper depth areas, which naturally will be vulnerable, there is a need to train troops in depth to make and follow SOPs for security and offensive reactions. In this we need to train both the arms and the services for such defensive tasks and offensive reactions. There is no concept of forward and depth areas. They are all part of the war zone.

    Our training has to change. It is ridiculous to get the Special Forces to deal with a handful of terrorists.

    The remark on the lack of leadership is unfortunate, unless it is proven. The loss of the two officers who led the QRTs is proof, though one learns that with the death of the officers, there was complete lack of morale.

  4. Dear sir, I read through the literature on the structure and manning of the armies in Western countries while undertaking an academic study. I wish to address your two points concerning structural changes in the light of upgraded technology and manpower shortages.
    First. The scenario has of course changed. My understanding based on literature is that asymmetric warfare is there to deal with. The initiative is with the attacker/assaulter, so being surprised is part of it. When we are surprised our response is not the best. Our resources may be short in number or not located near the attack site. Its humanly and intellectually very challenging to foresee all eventualities and vulnerabilities. So we have to learn to live with this volatility of attack in the nature of target, timing and place . We have to prepare harder. Our effort should be to minimise the loss by good training, equipment, intelligence and logistics.

    Second. We are fortunate that we have no shortages in PBOR. The foreign countries are having women soldiers due to unavailability of male soldiers. The armed forces as a career choice is based on occupation versus institution orientation of the educated youth. Hence the offering (besides adventure, serving the best institution/nation, leadership, quality of life–request see Maj (Retd) Raghuram’s video on U tube ) has to become very attractive (status and salary) to the young that they opt for a career in the armed forces. The labour market is very competitive for corporate positions which have high pressures but less volatility to attract quality youth or to divert them from risk prone life of services. So the shortages can be made up only by good offers to compensate for the high risk , volatility, uncertainty and high commitment of services lifestyle. The personal sacrifices have to be compensated well to attract the talented and quality youth. Service in armed forces should be considered a speciality just like say aircraft pilots.

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