Lieutenant General Rameshwar Roy (retired) speaks to Policy Pulse about the vulnerability of military hubs in the wake of recent attack on Brigade Headquarters at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir. Excerpts from the interview
The recent attacks by fidayeens on different military bases in Jammu and Kashmir have raised concern about the security parameters around them. How do you look at it?
Not only recent attacks or Uri, I will say that this is so ever since the Pakistani terrorists started taking action on civilian targets across the international border. If we do not go far back in the history then let us start from the Mumbai attack. From then onwards, the focus has been on the softness of our targets which are away from the line of control or international border. But yes, by the Uri attack the sensitivity has further gone up because this target has been very close to Line of Control or LoC. So if they had meticulous planning to spring a surprise at us by attacking such targets, there is a definite requirement to look into the security establishment of various soft targets in the country as far as Pakistan’s proxy war is concerned.
Despite reports by many committees constituted by the Defence Ministry pointing loopholes in security at these establishments nothing substantial has so far been done. Your comments please:
You are absolutely right. Actually, the problem in our country is that the States have got a fair degree of autonomy as far as the law and order and security mechanism of State is concerned. So whenever we want to integrate it at national level we have the problem. State starts thinking that the Centre may have overwhelming powers to look into other establishments also in addition to those which are threatened purely from the security point of view. And because of this, they really did not allow any effective mechanism to develop despite the fact that there was an empowered Group of Ministers Committee which was formed as a fall out of the Kargil war. They suggested a very comprehensive security mechanism to be put up to protect our establishments. This was not possible because large amount of agencies got involved. You have State mechanism to involve, the Centre gets involved, other agencies like Intelligence Bureau, CID to the RAW are to be involved. So a whole lot of agencies get involved and bigger difficulties are also there as people are against these agencies. You have NSG, you have CRPF, Army, and you have the State police, so all have to act together. So that is one reason, actually, I would say that no progress has been made so far.
Don’t you think that this is the right time to review and upgrade the security parameters around important stations?
See, the thing is that the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, these three are services establishments. If they all are going for separate security mechanisms then it is going to be a very expensive proposition. But besides being expensive, it is also suffering from large amount of co-ordinations from various agencies which are involved. Since they are located in a particular State, and located in places for many years, there would be a requirement to depend to large amount of passive security measures than active measures. Active security measures are going to cost a lot of money to the country. In the passive security measures in terms of the proper boundary walls, in terms of electronic surveillance systems, in terms of electronic intelligence, in terms of State Governments also pitching in their resources. Just for example, let us talk about Gurdaspur attack. The very fact that the terrorist were able to cross the international border and reach up to the largest area points to the fact that there were agencies involved. There BSF is involved guarding the international border, and there is Punjab police which is managing all kinds of other security checkpoints etc on the road. There would be electronic intelligence surveillance; surely they would have made some kind of communication on the mobile phone. Somebody would have to be empowered to gather these conversations. But then this was not processed. And finally they reached the target area (Pathankot Airbase). Before they reached the target area three or four agencies got involved. When they reached the target area, the Air force has not the capabilities to act against them, even when they were detected. Then they tried to fly National Security Guards (NSG). The NSG is trained for different kind of warfare. The most ideally suited agency was the Army which has been doing these kinds of activities for decades in J&K. But nobody contacted Army. If the Army would have been contacted, then the army has its own channels to take orders. So you see the whole lot of the agencies are available. Every capability exists, but nobody is appearing to be the boss of the coordination.
So you find that there is a serious problem in Standard Operative Procedures or SOPs?
There are problems. In fact, this is also a time to act in coordination now since the Pakistan has been engaged in proxy war for over three decades. Actually, I would suggest that there should be a separate agency for placing them under one umbrella or command who will be capable of taking decisions at the time the information intercepts are received and till the time the action is taken to eliminate the threat. It can come under a name of “Hinterland Command” like America has got the Hinterland Command which looks after the internal security. For a country of India’s size, it is the right time that we should consider this. This is not going to cost much as everything is in place. You just have to link it up under a common command control or a common umbrella, thus, making the situation better.
The latest report of the Tri Service Committee headed by former Vice-Chief of the Army Lieutenant General Philip Compose has reportedly suggested replacing old SOPs and equipments. Prior to this, many committees have suggested substantial changes in security parameters but nothing changed at the ground. Why is it so?
This is a very naked truth which has been brought out by these Committees which have been formed including that of Madhukar Gupta Committee (former Home Secretary) to find out the deficiencies. These deficiencies do exist but more than making up the deficiencies, the system also suffers from the lack of continuous up-gradation and serviceability. You know that the initial procurement is ok but then time will come when it will become serviceable and nobody will try to make these serviceable or better equipments will come in the market and then nobody will be willing to replace it. This is how the Government system has a problem. The Government’s procurement and way to put out the obsolete equipments is cumbersome. So process of upgrade in the manpower to the equipment and upgrade in the SOPs is urgently needed. It requires a relook and not one time relook but to keep continuous upgrade by refining. You keep learning lessons from these terror attacks which have taken place in recent past. But there is no such thing happening. Therefore, things keep repeating exactly in the same manner. You compare Gurdaspur with Patahnkot to Uri though they may have different shades. But that happened in the same cyclic order because nobody seems to learning lessons from these incidents.
Most of our defence establishments are fenced with barbed wires. Don’t you think that there should be a boundary wall around them with electronic surveillance systems?
Actually, I would put it like this that the barbed wire is most mundane and most ineffective way of put as a fence. And if you put a wall, it has also a big problem that it stops observation beyond it. So if it is wall, then you will have to have an elevated sentry post for observation. You have to have the electronic surveillance system which looks beyond the wall before a person reaches the wall and attempts to scale it up. So you are right that we have to have a more robust mechanism to act as fence around these establishments. And more than that, away from these fences, up to a certain distance you require some kind of surveillance which will give sufficient warning so that the mechanism inside the parameter or inside the walled area enables them to place themselves quickly to face these threats. That kind of mechanism is required today. In today’s world surveillance equipments are available and that can easily be done with little cost.
The electronic surveillance system around these garrisons is not there despite repeated recommendations by the different committees. Why is it so?
Only thing I can reason out because of the divide that exists between the Centre and State. The State does not look at the security of these establishments the same way the Centre does. So we have to understand that the national security is the most important overriding factor. The biggest issue is that whenever any target is hit, it is not the psyche of the State that is hit; it is the psyche of the nation that is hit. At the national level we all feel very bad, we feel very helpless as to how our enemy can come and strike at our targets which are well within our own country. So this sensitivity that we face or the particular shame that we face after the attack in recent times. It will only go when everybody will understand that the national security is above everything else. It has to go over the political considerations or State boundaries.
You mentioned coordination between the Centre and the State. But the general perception is that the defence establishments are looked after the Defence Ministry alone. So what kind of action is required to have better synergy?
This is an important point. The more you compartmentalise the part of the security, the more resources you will require to guard these assets within the defence establishment. You will say that this is asset of Air force, the Air force will guard it, this is Navy’s asset, this should be guarded by the Navy, that this is asset of Army, the Army will guard it. So what will happen is that your resources will be taken comparatively much more and security will become a problem because you cannot coordinate. More people and agencies are involved and the establishment cost will go high and the result at ground level may be zero. So the requirement is to take an integrated look to the whole thing. If there is question of bearing the cost, that can be worked out. There has to be a collective, integrated, co-ordinated mechanism, then only there is a possibility that you can act against an enemy who is common. The enemy is common against a common country so why should resource not be common against the common target?
Former Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor had emphasized on the humane intelligence gathering during his tenure. Now it appears that the earlier policy has been abandoned. Don’t you think that in the present circumstances in Kashmir it should be an option?
You see, it is not a question of initiating action to build up human intelligence. Because of increasing technology enhancement, this has become little difficult to have these human intelligence as a resource and make sure that they are not compromised. Because today any such activity by a human resource will very quickly come under observation and can get compromised. So the requirement is to be very selective. We require human intelligence where no other resources are going to work. Similarly, when the electronic intelligence is required then the human intelligence should be kept away. The moment you are not selective both are likely to get in each other’s beats and get compromised. This is a big difficulty and this not only in our country but also the world over. There is a shortage of human intelligence. People are not coming forward to do it because it has become risky. They get quickly exposed and compromised. So we have to find answer to that. But to some extent between India and Pakistan, there is a possibility of having human intelligence available because of the same stock of people, common language, and common features. But for the human intelligence, this will have to be of high quality and built up over a period of the time. From the beginning the man has to be groomed up. In earlier days, we use to pick up and say that you sit here and you report about the activities of the enemy. That is not possible nowadays.
What is the logic behind India going for advance military equipments when it cannot provide elementary facility to the troops who are guarding it?
It is a good question. There is a philosophy of varying the 30:40:30 ratio. Normally, we have 30 percent of the obsolete equipment, 40 percent of the current equipment; again the 30 percent is futuristic equipment. This keeps over turning because of gestation period to absorb new technology. The technology gaps are increasing every day. So a good system whether it is dealing with security or national security or war machine or equipping the various forces should be such that whatever is getting obsolete will keep on getting replaced by the current in use. And what is current in use keeps on upgraded by the modern systems which are coming in. This has to be kept up. You cannot put a break to it otherwise the gap would increase. Technological gap is increasing because many countries are not sharing it. Our own research and development has not come up to the users’ satisfaction. Heavy dependence on our Defence Public Sectors for our military requirement is adding problems. Hope that the new initiative of this Government ‘Make in India’ will ease the situation and more and more participation of private sector will help in meeting the demand. There are a large numbers of blockages at the bureaucratic levels. There are numerous occasions where the allotments are withdrawn because the fund could not be spent. The procurement policy is so cumbersome that the proposals are stuck at various bureaucratic levels. Then the Ministry of Defence will say that you are not able to spend the allotted money and the fund is withdrawn. Sometimes I felt that the allotment is given with clear intention to get it withdrawn at the end of the financial year. Once budget allocation is made, the cases get stuck up. So there is some kind of bureaucratic conspiracy. Let me put it bluntly there is a bureaucratic conspiracy towards the security mechanism because they feel that there is no scene of war, but if this type of situation arises, they will not be there to answer. So fixing the responsibility is also required to ease procurement process.