The Indian army has constantly been embroiled in anti terrorism operations. The states of Jammu and Kashmir and parts of the North East. They have many a heroic tale and stories of young leaders and their bravery etched in history. Lives have been lost. Families living through memories. Units after units deployed, in places that don’t even suit a tactical disposition. Some units seeking their hour of glory by requesting for unit postings to places with all the action. Helps with the awards and the United Nations gratification.
Commanding Officers and Brigade Commanders earn an operational report that is a career boost, sets them apart from their counterparts in peace stations. The entire process is so seamlessly woven, that gets the army the experience they need in anti-insurgency operations, keeps the adrenalin flowing, gives perceptual relevance and the leadership more stars on the shoulders.
Here the term, tolerance for ambiguity is exceptionally followed. Mistakes often shoved under the carpet due to the cascading effects of rolling heads. Never to be spoken about, minor aberrations dealt with, by un-recorded warnings. Everyone wants to own that pedestal in his two and a half to two years of tenure.
What ails me, is when I hear officers in higher offices flashing their beautifully made power point slides stating their KRAs. The first, KRA reads to stop Pakistani sponsored terrorism. The second, win hearts and minds. The third, avoid human right violations at all costs. The forth, prevent collateral damage and loss to civilian life. Fifth, be accountable.
Every time I see a officer and soldiers body bag, this thought process troubles me. A terrorist is a terrorist and will be a terrorist. He needs to be shown no mercy, in doing so we need to ensure complete operational capacity without binding rules that curb military techniques and method. The officer fighting that operation cannot be restricted by rules that don’t suit anti terrorism operations.
Let’s take one point out of the KRA. What is the idea of preventing collateral damage. Many will argue that when an operation starts then the situation is weighed in and options calculated. The idea is to prevent collateral damage since these are our people who have built houses through hard earned money. They can’t prevent gun wielding terrorists from entering, cause of the fear of being terminated.
While I have all my empathy with the house owner, but these are terrorists, if you don’t kill them, they will kill you and many others. We don’t rush in like cow boys, the terrorists are adequately protected and the raiding team in the open. What is the criticality of a concrete structure that can be always rebuilt. We pay crores in compensation to land owners after every major exercise with troops in the plains and deserts. Why not assured compensation then to these owners, if they are inadvertent victims.
The psychological ascendency and fear you build up in the local population is also part of Counter Insurgency operations. It’s a preventive methodology, people are always conscious and cautious about their own wealth. Therefore they will always avoid being attributed to a group or tanzeem or being conducive to transiting miscreants. Once these militants know that an area is not open to them, they will also avoid the same. We need to constantly deny them both the physical and psychological spaces.
Now let’s get into the mind of a young officer who is fighting this type of war. The COs briefing reads like this. Guys we need to keep our area safe and devoid of terrorist movements or activities. Domination of own areas of responsibility through a dynamic intelligence network, patrolling, ambushes and proactive people ops is the way. All cordon and search operations should be based on hard intelligence only.
Every cordon and search operation should bear results, early morning hours of people congregating during prayer time or in extreme weather conditions should be avoided. Search operations should be specific and humane. If contact is established, the location will be isolated. Civilians will be evacuated, a detailed picture of the situation will be communicated to the higher headquarters. A police representative and a village representative is compulsory. If hostages are present and involves a woman, a woman representative is essential.
Media people may be allowed. The trrrorists once isolated there is no hurry, plan the operations to avoid collateral damage. Once the operation is over take a clearance certificate, from the police, the village head and have witnesses. Avoid own and civilian casualties at all costs. Human right violations of any kind by your team will be considered failure of command.
Just imagine the state of that officer leading the team. It’s like a boxer boxing with his hands tied behind his back. Yes he has to be responsible, he has to ensure probity, but he can’t be subdued by a chain of leadership making rules in their quest for safe operations. The pakistani's are using heavy weapons, tanks and gun ships to fight in Balochistan and the Khyber pakhtunwa. The Chinese all types of terror operations by the military in Xin Jiang.
The Americans don’t even care about the collateral as long as their aim is met. But we Indians make rules that are discriminatory against military operations cause we want to appease a population and make them inclusive, who have no love lost if a soldier dies but congregate in thousands when a militant who robbed them of their money and rapes their women is killed.
Do we even have a strategy to end terrorism in Kashmir. Or is it a situation that suits a certain part of the geo strategic analogy. Do we even think that we need to fight Pakistani sponsored terrorism in a manner which is effective and hurts the Pakistani military and not the way he expects us to fight. Is this a existential war? Till Pakistan exists we will be embroiled in it. Is there then a scope to break and balkanise the perpetrator.
After article 370 was abrogated and Ladakh and J&K has been given clarity in status, why should our response system be controlled and calibrated only on the Line of control. The retribution mechanism should be so configured that for every action of induction and infiltration of terrorists or any such action that threatens Indian life and material, we need to respond anywhere and everywhere where it hurts the protagonist of terrorism activities the most.
Meanwhile for that young officer we need to assure him, that his interests are national interests and will be protected no matter what. That he is a responsible military officer and has to act in the interests of the military and the nation. In action his decisions will be respected no matter what the outcome. We need confidence building measures to be set in place, to assure this youngster putting his life at stake that the military will stand by him no matter what.
There are some who have to be admonished too, cause they are bound to do wrong in their quest for earning a medal. The present dispensation might argue that these measures are all in place. But then so say all that are in the chair presently. Please take a feedback from the youngsters in the act, you will be surprised with what you hear.
Military leadership needs to speak a common language. At no time should we be looking behind our backs in confusion for orders or just in the context of an exclamation! Of Am I doing it right? Pata nahin ab kya hoga! I am not saying it’s the same situation everywhere, but the perplexity exists.
About the Author
The author is a military analyst and commentator on national security and stategic issues issues.