Almost a week after the terrorist attack on an Indian Army installation in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) killing 18 soldiers, the writing is on the wall. Or at least it would be if there was a wall.
The Indian soldiers at Uri were at the rear base camp of an infantry battalion, in temporary settlements like tents. What these settlements didn’t have was a peripheral guard wall. A few kilometers from the Line of Control, where infiltration is common and which has been a sensitive border post, why were soldiers kept without adequate protection?
Anecdotal accounts suggest that it is not just Uri, but reportedly across the state of J&K that more than 50 army posts have no peripheral guard walls. Army officers say there are budgetary problems in sanctioning of guard walls. A nationwide audit of Indian security installations may throw up embarrassing results.
A base can never be secured from inside. In a regular proactive scenario, the four terrorists in Uri would have been taken outside the periphery by ambushes or patrols.
Within hours of the attack described as the worst single strike since the Nineties, many voices in Indian electronic media and social media had declared war against Pakistan, suspected to have been behind the attack.
For the record, India cannot go to war simply because it lacks the capabilities. For starters, according to the CAG, Indian ammunition reserves won’t last a 10-day war. A professional army should be able to carry on a 30-day intense war. Serving army officers say that the country can’t even afford a three-day war. This is information that’s in the public domain in India so chances are extremely high that it’s not news to Pakistan.
The armed forces should ideally work with 30 per cent cutting edge equipment, 40 per cent current technology and the remaining 30 per cent with obsolete weapons. The Indian Army is packed almost entirely with obsolete technology. In March 2012, the then Army Chief V K Singh (now a minister of state in the government) had put on record in a letter to the Prime Minister that “97 per cent of Army’s air defence inventory was obsolete”. Nothing much has changed since then.
The Army’s air defence corps is meant to provide terminal air defence for important installations through Ground-Based Air Defence Weapon Systems (GBADWS). The system went obsolete by the turn of the century. The shelf life of the missile systems has also expired.
India’s defence preparedness is abysmal. Soldiers do not even have enough bulletproof jackets. In January this year, procurement of 50,000 jackets was ordered, but that has still not been made available. With third-generation weaponry and shortage in vehicles and elementary battle gear, India cannot think of a war, let alone go to war. Not just the Army but even the Air Force is way short of the required strength.
There’s also another question that needs to be considered. Even an incident as dramatically rattling as 26/11 – in which one of the terrorists was not only captured alive, but was also a Pakistani national – didn’t prompt India into a war, so what happened at Uri that the mainstream media has unleashed warmongering upon us all? Even the market that otherwise slides with a sneeze didn’t bother about any war.
India has had a protracted war with terrorism in its eastern borders too, but it never waged a war against any of the neigbouring countries that provided safe havens to Indian terror groups or aided and abetted the attacks.
Till 2010, Bangladesh was the hub for scores of groups and despite decades of Indian persuasion, the Bangladeshi government and its intelligence agencies supported the armed groups. Paresh Baruah, the self-styled commander in chief of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), used to be in the Director General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI) safe houses in Dhaka. In 2001, 16 Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers were dragged from the border, tortured and hacked to death in Bangladesh. India didn’t wage a war against Bangladesh, though diplomatic relations was strained.
Myanmar has been home to as many groups as Bangladesh and it has taken several years to even discuss the issue with the military Junta. In 2015, the NSCN (K) had ambushed an army convoy in Manipur, killing 18 Indian Army soldiers. India claimed they sent Special Forces inside Myanmar targeting the terrorist camps that was immediately refuted by Myanmar government. India had nothing to prove the claim either.
Bhutan was the only country where India (though it never admitted this) in 2003 helped carry out a massive operation to clear at least 48 armed camps of Indian separatists. But that was not a strike against any country and officially the operation was carried out by Bhutan.
To counter what India refers to Pakistan’s “proxy-war”, after 26/11, the government in Mumbai had got the army to start a covert operation group, the Technical Services Division (TSD), that the former chief V K Singh had initiated. It ran into trouble and had to be shut down. The Indian Cold Start Doctrine –limited, rapid, armoured thrusts, with infantry and necessary air support – was aimed at Pakistan’s hybrid warfare but never quite started. It did, however, prompt Pakistan into increasing defence expenditure and legitimised its army and government into supporting the dirty war, like the suicide attack in Uri.
What India, however, should do is to enhance its fighting equipment, procure current technology, empower its fighting forces and reinforce existing installations for internal as well as external security threats.