security issues

Intelligence ignored: Why is Indian army being caught napping time and again?

The latest attack in Nagrota takes the toll of security personnel killed in border-related incidents this month to 11 – over 40 in the last three months.

Once again, militants crossing over from Pakistan targeted a military camp – this time in Nagrota, a cantonment 15 km north of Jammu city, killing two officers and five soldiers, just two months after the deadly attack on a military camp in Uri. The spate of successful attacks and high military losses raise several disturbing questions about the complacency that seems to have afflicted the Indian army and security forces deployed in the state.

The militants, believed to be from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, crossed over several hours before the attack, and were dressed in Jammu and Kashmir police uniforms, confusing the army sentries outside the Officers’ Mess, according to intelligence officials.

The militants stormed into the Mess at 5 am, lobbing grenades and firing from automatic assault rifles, before entering a residential building housing soldiers and their families. A Quick Reaction Team of the local Army Artillery Regiment was pressed into service to counter the militants, which managed to rescue several women and children, but lost an officer and additional men in the attempt.

The latest attack in Nagrota takes the toll of security personnel killed in border-related incidents this month to 11 – the figure is over 40 in the last three months. While militant attacks have gone beyond Jammu and Kashmir, such as the Pathankot attack earlier this year and the Gurdaspur attack the year before, they are concentrated mostly around military or police installations, ensuring that local support for militancy is not affected in any manner.

Barring a few attacks on civilian targets in Pampore, near Srinagar, the attacks have targeted soldiers and police personnel, indicating that a clear strategy is in place to undermine the security forces.

A Complacent Army?

A little over a week ago, Lieutenant General A K Sharma, who took over as the General officer Commanding of the 16 Corps in Nagrota in October, received a detailed intelligence briefing that included inputs about an attack on a “high value” target.

Sharma, originally from the 2nd battalion of the Sikh Regiment, has spent a considerable part of his career in Kashmir on counter insurgency duties. However, while he asked the formations and units under his command to take precautionary measures, most failed to sit up and take notice.

The result was a disastrous attack.

A lot of the blame for the increasing military casualties, it appears, can now be placed on an increasingly disconnected military hierarchy. Emerging details of the September attack in Uri, that claimed 20 lives show how complacent the military has become in a state that is termed as “war zone”.

Officials in the security establishment, who were part of the post-mortem carried out of the Uri attack came up with astounding details. The attack, which took place in the early hours of September 18, showed that even basic security measures were missing. The perimeter measures were rudimentary and had chicken coop fencing with abandoned sentry points at the golf course, which had been the point of entry for the militants. Some of the sentry bunkers were found with sandbags that had dense growth sprouting through them, indicating the state of neglect. Despite specific intelligence alerts, patrolling was minimal and the threat posture underestimated.

The soldiers from the incoming Maratha battalion had not been issued weapons on the night of the attack. When the attack took place, leading to fires in the tents, the soldiers did not even have the means to retaliate. This led to a high casualties, as the units were caught napping.

Some senior officers were also found to be in denial of a possible attack. With the army coming down hard on casualties, many field commanders had become defensive, as senior police officials pointed out. “Since the attack on Uri, nearly 12 major cordon and search operations have been conducted by the army, based on specific intelligence inputs about militants. All of them came back empty handed. In four of those cases, the militants fired back and managed to get away,” a senior state police official told

Worse, while the Uri attack was attributed to the militant outfit, Jaish-e-Mohammed created by Maulana Masood Azhar, one of the the terrorists released by the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government after the hijacking of IC 814, but subsequent evidence recovered from the militants killed conclusively established that they were from the Lashkar-e-Toiba, maintain those investigating the case.

A subsequent inquiry found that the Director General of Military Operations had based his claims on an intercepted phone call of a journalist speaking to his editor, claiming that the JeM was behind the attack.

Last year, intelligence agencies had busted a militant module, which had conducted detailed surveys of the military installations in Nagrota. They found video footage of the Corps headquarters, and the installations that were attacked on November 29. This was the clearest warning that the military cantonment was on the target of militants. The Corps is one of the biggest in the Indian Army, and before the creation of the Jaipur-based South Western Command, had one of the largest areas of responsibility, that stretched from Northern Punjab right up to Poonch in the Jammu sector.

The area around Akhnur, with a solitary bridge over the Chenab river is considered a particularly sensitive and vulnerable area that winds its way up through Palanwala, before the international border converts into the Line of Control. The area has two army divisions, the 10th Division in Akhnur and the 25th Division in Rajouri, as well as the Romeo Force, a Division sized counter insurgency formation, dedicated for operations north of Akhnur.

Surgical strikes nullified

In April 2014, just before the general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah addressing an election rally claimed that once their party took power at the centre under Narendra Modi, the borders would be safe and no one would dare to enter India. However, the gap between political rhetoric and reality has been steadily increasing. What has also added to the complacency of the military is its increasing use for political brownie points.

Soon after the “surgical strikes” by Indian Army’s Special Forces, defence minister Manohar Parrikar had credited the “teachings of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh” for the action. He had also promised a “tit-for-tat” action against future attacks during a TV interview, but had not spelt out a clear strategy. However, despite the “surgical attacks” and the demonetisation, strikes against military installations continue unabated. Worse, government claims of past attacks have also been contradicted. For instance, while Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh had claimed that there were “six terrorists” in the Pathankot air base attack earlier this year, the government told Parliament on November 29 that there were only “four terrorists”.

Such confusion in the top political ranks of the government does not inspire much confidence among the security forces, be it the military or the intelligence agencies and police forces. Security analysts are clear that more terror attacks are in the offing, and unless the political leadership gets its act together quickly, India will have to lose more of its soldiers in this unending conflict.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.


SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.