Brig Anil Gupta
The whole nation has condemned in unison the dastardly act of ambush of a CRPF convoy just 15 km away from the capital town Srinagar. While the LET has claimed responsibility for the cowardly act, Pakistani government has chosen to remain silent for the reasons well known. 8 brave policemen made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty and attained martyrdom while 21 are severely injured with seven of them being critical.
While, the nation mourns this unbearable loss, there is a need for a critical examination because it is happening far too often both in Kashmir as well as Left Wing Extremism affected areas. For most of the bereaved families of the martyrs it means loss of the sole bread-winner and for the nation it means loss of trained man power and the consequent effect it has upon the morale of the other men in uniform. The frequency of such incidents is alarming.
Will this incident also like the many in past die after a few statements by the political leadership, television debates and a routine enquiry? Time has come for a critical appraisal with a view to determine corrective methods and a befitting response. CRPF is now operating in the Valley as a counter insurgency force since a long time. The force also knows that the situation in Valley is different from LWE effected areas and here it is fighting a proxy-war. A large number of standard operating procedures (SOPs) exist as guidelines for operating in this operational environment.
The adherence to SOPs implies following correct procedures including safety precautions to ensure minimum casualties in case of an encounter as well as minimising the chances of error. From the facts emerging in the instant case it is obvious that the SOPs were not adhered to. It is a well-known fact that certain amount of slackness sets in while carrying out same tasks over a period of time. But that is where the at all levels are required to play their role.
The SOPs should also be dynamic and constantly reviewed keeping in mind the emerging threats. In any case, in view of the forthcoming Amarnath Yatra and the consequent threat to it from the terrorists, the present threat level in Valley is supposed to be the highest. Hence, the failure to adhere to SOPs smacks of negligence of professional responsibility and the accountability must be fixed followed by rolling of heads irrespective of the position held by the defaulters. The spurt in violence is indicative of lack of intelligence inputs. The terrorists through a well-planned strategy targeted the local policemen initially. It appears they have succeeded in their aim by creating a fear-psychosis among the informers, sources and the police personnel. The net result is obvious, drying up of sources and dearth of intelligence.
The police hierarchy has to work overtime to defeat this nefarious design of the terrorists. Without intelligence the troops are handicapped and have to operate in a vacuum. The issue of increase in local militants also needs to be looked into. To my mind, the hypothesis that more and more youth from the educated and well to do families are joining militancy is a hoax. It is only an extension of the Burhan Wani factor and is not supported by figures, as claimed by the army.
The increase in number of local militants may be due to ‘recycling’ of ‘ex-militants’ who supposedly after a change of heart returned to their homes illegally via the Nepal route between 2010-2014 with tacit support of the then government or the terrorists released from jails due to multifarious reasons. It is a dangerous trend and the government of the day needs to look into it seriously.
There is also the question of leadership crisis. The higher leadership in the Central Armed Police Forces including CRPF is grabbed by the IPS officers who have very little experience of fighting the proxy war. There is dis-connect between those on the ground and those who make plans and strategies from them. Most of them are divorced from reality and lack the understanding of ground level nuances.
They are neither baptised by fire nor grilled by relentless psychological pressures while working in a hostile environment of proxy war. There are a few exceptions but the exceptions do not prove a rule. There is the need for these forces to have their own higher leadership. Troops readily accept those leaders who have been with them through thick and thin. Even the mid-level leaders need to be with the troops both during training and operations. Considering that almost six busloads of troops were returning after training, the officers were conspicuous by their absence.
Now that the government has identified and nominated CRPF as the counter-insurgency force, it is incumbent on the government to equip the force to enable it to carry out its task effectively.
The units must be equipped according to the task being performed by them. Lack of bullet proof vests for individuals as well as bullet proof vehicles for escort parties to enable them to close in with the attackers was obvious in the instant case. Proper pre-induction training to familiarise troops with local terrain and challenges is also necessary. Had the proper counter ambush drills been followed the number of casualties could have been minimised.
There is no denying the fact that Pakistan despite being exposed internationally as a sponsor state of terror continues to unashamedly support terrorist activities in the Valley. It is an expression of Pakistan’s desperation due to its continued failure to stem the tide of terrorism at home as well as diplomatic embarrassment it faces almost daily due to its involvement in spreading global terror.
It views Kashmir as the only hope of remaining in international lime light and hence will try all tricks up its sleeves to keep the pot boiling. We cannot afford to allow Pakistan to continue to bleed us like a sacrificial lamb. It is time now for both the state and central governments to act rather than issue stern warnings.
To begin with, all those found waiving Pak and ISIS flags in valley should be booked under Public Safety Act (PSA). The intelligence apparatus needs to be rejuvenated. Unified Headquarters need to be made more effective to generate synergy. The security forces must revise their strategy to deal with insurgency in hinterland. ‘Area domination’ along with ‘intelligence based’ surgical operations must be launched with vigour. The security forces must concentrate on anti-terror operations and detach themselves from ‘reconciliatory measures.’
The elected representatives need to play their role by becoming more active in grass-root politics and facilitate the reconciliatory phase through change of mind set, a very difficult but challenging job. The central government needs to up the ante and inch up the escalatory ladder to teach Pakistan a befitting lesson. The nation is in no mood to suffer this humiliation any more.
(The author is a Jammu based columnist, security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Brig Anil Gupta