Need for a surgical strike of different kind

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Madhusudhana Rao S

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi needs to conduct a surgical strike on the Ministry of Defence headed by Manohar Parrikar. The former chief minister of Goa has proved himself beyond doubt that he is a motormouth. For example, soon after the surgical strikes on some terrorist launch pads in the occupied Kashmir along the Line of Control on September 29, 2016, the Defence Minister had been everywhere trumpeting India’s victory and Modi’s resoluteness as if India had won a decisive battle against Pakistan. His later statements, widely seen as uncalled for provocative remarks, had only helped add fuel to the raging verbal battles between India and Pakistan over cross-border firing, infiltrations and truce violations along the LoC and the international border.

In his latest humiliating attack on Pakistan, Parrikar said in Goa on Saturday that Islamabad had called New Delhi and pleaded with it to stop punitive assaults on Pak bases along the Loc to avenge the beheading of an Indian soldier by Pak Army-backed militants. To stress his point, the minister is also reported to have threatened “to gauge the enemy’s eyes out and put them back in his hands if provoked.”

Parrikar’s rustic lingo might go down well with rural audience; but in diplomatic circles it is bound to raise eyebrows. However, his comments were seen as his personal reaction to Pakistan’s offer of talks a day earlier. In an exclusive interview with Aaz Tak TV channel, Pak High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit said his government was ready for a dialogue with India and that could take place on the sidelines of Heart of Asia conference scheduled to be held in Amritsar on December 3 and 4.

Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaz Aziz would be attending the conference. Policy experts feel his presence in India would provide a good opportunity for both the countries to break the impasse and nudge the stalled Indo-Pak talks, although India has ruled out any such possibility as long as Pakistan continues to abet terror across the border. The Pak rider to such parleys is that the offer should come from the host nation, India. As of now, Sartaz Aziz is scheduled to arrive on the morning of December 4 and leave in the evening. Even if there is a window of opportunity to explore the chances of resumption of talks, the Monday terrorist attack on an Army base in Nagrota near Jammu has spoiled such chance.

Seven soldiers, including two officers, were killed in the attack on the forward and key Nagrota base, located just 20 km from Pakistani border. A group of suicide attackers dressed in police uniforms entered the Army base in the wee hours with grenades and guns. They held the members of the families of Army officers hostage. The operation resembled the deadly attack on the Army base in Pathankot in January  followed by another daring attack on Uri Army base in September in which 19 jawans were killed.

Resisting the terrorists when they were entering the Army base, an officer and three jawans lost their lives.  Nagrota base is one of the commanding centres in Jammu & Kashmir where more than a thousand officers are housed. It is the headquarters of Army’s 16 Corps which is expected to defend the borders with Pakistan.

It may or may not be a coincidence that the attack took place on a day when  the new Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, took charge relieving General Rasheel Sharif who warned India not to mistake Pakistan’s patience as weakness. 

Since 2015, there have been 11 major terrorist attacks on Indian military bases or personnel in and near Jammu and Kashmir. The major attacks among these were, raid on brigade headquarters in Kupwara (May 2015); Pathankot air base (January 2016) and Uri (September 2016). By any reckoning, for a country that is considered as one of the major military powers in the world, an attack on a military base is unacceptable. Each and every attack so far has exposed our weaknesses in security at military units, intelligence gathering, effective community network to pass on information and failure to learn from past mistakes.

According to reports, intelligence services had been warning of an impending attack on the 16 Corps headquarters in Nagrota for a fortnight. Still, the Army deployed there could not avert it, let alone pre-empt the dawn raid.

According to a report in The Times of India, “very little follow-up action” had been taken after the recommendations of the tri-Service committee, led by former Army chief Lt Gen (retd) Philip Campose and constituted after the Pathankot terror attack. TOI quoted a defence source as saying, “Since the report was submitted to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar in mid-May, few concrete steps have been taken. There were some general discussions with the three Service headquarters, which in turn have carried out some security audits of their bases.” 

What Parrikar has to say about the string of terrorist attacks on our Army bases and personnel in forward areas? People expect our military bases to be impregnable. If they become soft targets for terrorists, backed or not by Pak Army, from across the border, and vulnerable to riff-raff gunmen, how can the Defence Minister keep making bombastic statements?  Beating the old drum beat of blaming Pakistan and its abetted terrorist outfits won’t help us in improving security at our forward bases. We have to be on our own guard. For that, Parrikar has to act, not talk.

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