The deaths of more than 40 Central Reserve Police Force personnel in an attack by a suicide bomber in South Kashmir on February 14 has led to shrill calls for retribution against Pakistan by self-proclaimed defence experts on social media, panelists on TV news channels and the anchors moderating these sessions. Since the attack – the second-most deadly strike in the history of the Central Reserve Police Force – senior government functionaries have also been mechanically trotting out statements, as they always do, promising that the sacrifice of India’s jawans will not be in vain.
But if any action needs to be taken, it must first start in India. There is absolutely no doubt that the political leadership and policy makers in New Delhi, and police and security officials on the ground – all of whom allowed this massive tragedy to happen under their watch – are guilty of criminal negligence.
What is worse is that they refuse to learn from previous mistakes, allowing such tragic losses of life to recur with alarming regularity. Those responsible for the huge failure of intelligence that led to the Pulwama tragedy must therefore be sacked for their incompetence. This will be a lesson to all.
Failures at many levels
There are several failures that contributed to the success of the suicide attack on the Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Kashmir.
First, why did the government allow such a large body of troops – nearly 2,500 men – to travel together in a large convoy of 80 vehicles? The troops were stranded in Jammu for two days prior to this because bad weather had led to the closure of the National Highway. But once the weather improved, instead of transporting all of them via road, they should have been airlifted into the Valley.
This is typical of the disconnect between decision makers in Delhi and troops on the ground. What kind of leaders are those who do not act proactively to alleviate the hardships of the specialised paramilitary forces they command? I believe these leaders are not up to the task entrusted to them and must be sacked.
The second failure is that of intelligence. A wireless signal dated February 8 is being touted as proof that intelligence received about a possible improvised explosive device blast had been shared with the Central Reserve Police Force. But that was a general signal addressed to everyone in the Valley to be cautious against such a blast. This cannot be called “intelligence”. Perhaps intelligence agencies could do a better job by being more specific. Unfortunately, such agencies have started treating basic information as intelligence. They appear to have forgotten the art of collating and analysing information received from different sources.
Intelligence agencies have a few questions to answer. For one, the assembly of such a large quantity of explosives and the purchase or requisition of the vehicle that became the moving bomb would have taken some time, and have also left some footprints for intelligence personnel to identify. Why were these not spotted? Similarly, there would have been contact between the suicide bomber and his handler. Why were these not intercepted?
The third failure if that of operational negligence, which is related to training. Before any armed forces personnel convoy proceeds in the Valley, a road opening party or ROP, which leads the convoy, sanitises the route. The job of this team is to ensure that the road is clear of any threats, including from small arms fire.
It is not clear whether the car used by the suicide bomber came from the same direction of the convoy or the opposite direction. Either way, the road opening party failed in its task. If the car was travelling in the direction of the convoy, how was it allowed to overtake several vehicles of the convoy and ram into one of them? Reports also suggested that the explosives-laden vehicle was stationary on the road for a few minutes before the convoy reached the spot where the attack took place. If that was the case, how did that not attract any suspicion from the road opening party?
Additionally, news reports quoted an Inspector General of the Central Reserve Police Force who suggested that the explosion was accompanied by firing. If true, this is an even bigger failure on the part of the road opening party. This implies that the troops did not dominate the road effectively. It also speaks poorly of the officer supervising the road opening party. Had he been doing his job properly, he would have ensured that his team was alert, ensuring that there would have been a chance – however remote – of preventing the tragedy.
All this reflects poorly on the training of the troops deployed with the road opening party. This brings us to the matter of training of troops, a growing cause of concern. It is a fact that training of the central paramilitary forces has suffered over the years. Continuous deployment of troops, absence of any reserves – including training companies – and a large intake of troops around 2013-2014 to fill vacancies as well as to aid expansion has played havoc with training systems. But that is not all. The attitude of Indian Police Service officers who lead the force – who do not assign any priority to training – is also to blame.
When I served with the Border Security Force, I recall that the post of Inspector General (Training) – responsible for formulating training policies for troops – was used mainly as a parking slot for officers on the verge of retirement or wanting a posting to Delhi for personal reasons. Merit was rarely a consideration for filling up this important post. It is possible that the same attitude plagues the training position in the Central Reserve Police Force.
The fourth failure is that of the Centre’s Kashmir policy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday that security forces had been given a free hand to punish those responsible for the attack. The question is: why did it take this massive tragedy for him to realise the seriousness of the situation in Kashmir? It is well known that South Kashmir is the hotbed of militancy. Then, what prevented security forces from operating proactively there? Even if one might concede that the previous government in Jammu and Kashmir was somewhat sympathetic to militants, the state has been governed by the Centre since the government collapsed in June. What has then prevented the government from operating proactively?
In the aftermath of the Pulwama attack, several voices – official and unofficial – blamed Pakistan for the tragedy. The narrative is that militants carried out this operation in “despair”. This is an immature understanding of the situation. While the role of Pakistan in fomenting trouble in Kashmir is beyond a doubt, it cannot be said that it is the only reason. Pakistan is exploiting the weaknesses of India’s Kashmir policy to the hilt. This is why New Delhi needs to urgently address its policies on Kashmir.
Additionally, militants do not operate out of despair. They operate whenever they find that security forces have let down their guard. They attack security forces at their weakest point after meticulous planning and preparation. This is why security forces in Kashmir cannot afford to let their guard down even for a moment. It is for their commanders to ensure this through adequate training and continuous supervision.
Finally, the fifth failure is the attitude of India towards its paramilitary soldiers. They are treated as second-class soldiers and are poorly paid and under equipped as compared to their counterparts in the Army. They are even deprived of pension of the kind Army personnel are entitled to. The lack of proper equipment such as bulletproof vehicles and jackets also seriously compromises their efficiency and morale. All this must change.
Sanjiv Krishan Sood is a former Additional Director General of the Border Security Force who retired after 38 years in service. His Twitter handle is @sood_2.