IST

Uri attack: Can Indian Army escape blame for death of soldiers?

India must take responsibility for itself.

 |  IST  |  6-minute read |   21-09-2016
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Did just a barbed wire fence separate the Indian Army base in Uri from the rest of the civilian population? Why were soldiers at such a sensitive installation, barely 6km from the Line of Control sleeping in tents? Did the four terrorists actually lock the cook-house and store room from the outside, thereby causing several deaths as reported by The Indian Express?

Several questions about the absurdly inadequate nature of Uri's perimetre defence security remain and must be answered by the Indian Army chief and his senior colleagues. Especially since the Army fought off four terrorists only four days before the Uri attacks in Poonch, its elite 9 Para commandos killing them all.

The truth is that the National Investigation Agency (NIA)'s inquiry into the Uri attacks cannot remain incident-specific. It must include acts of omission and commission by the Indian Army, whose job is to safeguard our frontiers.

army-terrror-uri_092116032958.jpg During the terror attack at the Army brigade camp in Uri.

For example, did any heads roll in the Indian Army when Chinese soldiers were discovered on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in August 2014, days before Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in New Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

At the time, the Indian government put up a brave face at the incursion, arguing these incidents took place because the LAC was merely a dotted line on a map and it was routine for soldiers to get lost in the expanse that constitutes unmarked frontiers.

But the largely unreported fact is that Delhi almost had to request the Chinese to withdraw from the LAC, in light of the embarrassment that Modi was subject to because Xi had already arrived in India.

As India grapples with the several options it is confronted by in the wake of the Uri debacle, and whether or not it should escalate the fight with Pakistan, the nation must also debate the political fallout of the incident within India.

Fact is, the prime minister's credibility within as well as across the international community is at stake because the Indian Army shrugged its shoulders and didn't tighten its perimeter defence at Uri.

Theek hai. Chalta hai.

It has almost become an unwritten code not to question the Indian Army in the media anymore. Each time someone does it, the raw courage of Vikram Batra and other young soldiers and officers who clawed back Indian territory, inch by inch, from the enemy in Kargil is held up in front of your face.

But the question is, why should it come to such a pass in the first place?

It's so much easier to talk about the tensions that prevail between the ministry of external affairs - remember that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was not present at the briefing called by the PM in the wake of the Uri attacks - and the prime minister's office.

So easy for home minister Rajnath Singh to sloganeer that the Modi government will resolve the ongoing Kashmir crisis in the spirit of "Kashmiriyat, Insaaniyat and Jamhooriyat", especially when most people recognise the changes that have taken place in Kashmir's polity - all because he has been more or less marginalised in the running of India's security policy.

Truth is, two years into the Modi government, ad hocism is still the name of the game. A complex hash of overlapping responsibilities and oneupmanship allows so much to fall between several stools. Who is in charge, is a question that was relevant in the earlier Manmohan Singh government, as well as today.

Since national security advisor Ajit Doval is the PM's most trusted aide, it seems that the responsibility for India's policy, especially in the neighbourhood, has fallen upon him. So whether it is Pakistan, or Bangladesh or Afghanistan or the Maldives, Doval's writ runs across these nations. The fact that he is trusted by the RSS helps significantly.

But does that mean that he has power over the Army chief or the heads of India's various intelligence services? In a complex world of common but differentiated responsibilities, the NSA cannot be anyone's super boss. Moreover, the buck definitely stops with Modi. The problem remains that all those responsible for each of their power verticals, including the Indian Army, are not fully pulling their weight.

Add to this salad bowl of ingredients, the BJP-PDP coalition in Jammu & Kashmir. As the daughter of the wily Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti's coalition dharma was to push the BJP government to improve the relationship with Pakistan. It is common knowledge that infiltration in the Kashmir valley had fallen drastically in the mid-2000s, not only because Kashmiris themselves were fed up with midnight raids and enforced disappearances and wanted peace, but because then Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf had ordered that the infiltrators be told to stand down.

And why? Because Musharraf and Manmohan Singh's aides were engaged in a back-channel in which they even forged a four-point formula that would gradually make the Line of Control invisible and help resolve the Kashmir crisis.

The opposite has happened under Modi's rule.

BJP general secretary Ram Madhav has taken a tough posture on Kashmir - it is his writ that counts. None other than Doval, addressing an event in Hyderabad before he joined the government, spoke of a "dysfunctional mindset" of the three parties involved in the Kashmir problem: India, Pakistan and Kashmiri separatists.

The reason the Modi government has put down the law, on not talking to the Hurriyat, is reflected in Doval's Hyderabad speech, in which he is quoted as saying that India has followed a policy of appeasement towards Pakistan since 1947.

Nehru made the first mistake by taking Kashmir to the UN in 1948. But even when the UN resolution came into being, India should have pushed for Pakistani troops to vacate undivided J&K, instead of losing the propaganda momentum to Pakistan. Article 370 was the product of this appeasement. "Once... you accepted they were different, you sowed the seeds of separatism," Doval said.

Luckily for India, the international community is standing by it on the Uri attacks. But make no mistake, the international community is led by its own interests - for example, Russia is continuing with its joint exercises with Pakistan even though it was severely critical of the Uri attack coming from Pakistani territory.

At the end of the day, India must take responsibility for itself. Putting your house in order also means fixing responsibility for slipping up. When the nation's security is at stake, no holy cows can be exempt - even if they belong to the Indian Army.

Writer

Jyoti Malhotra Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra

Senior Journalist & President, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), India.

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