THE LAPSE OF BEING LAIDBACK

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The lapse of being laidback

by Bashir Assad 

The recent attack on an army vehicle in the border district of Poonch in Pirpanchal
region points at lapses in security, human intelligence and the overall attitude of alertness. The consequences have been telling on the security situation of this Himalayan region. We analyse the attack and the many gaps gaping through.

THE recent terrorist attack on an isolated non-BP army vehicle near Bimargali in Poonch in
which five jawans were killed on the spot and one critically wounded, ahead of the G20 Summit slated to be held at Srinagar later in the month of May, warrants a critical analysis. And yes, heads should certainly roll to avoid repetition of such dastardly acts. The attack
should also be seen as an eye-opener at least in the context of the fragility of the prevalent
peaceful environment. Here, we try to put things in perspective for better understanding
of the dynamics of this attack.

 There were warnings
In February 2023, Kashmir Central, while quoting sources in the police and intelligence
agencies, revealed that a group of terrorists was roaming the forests from Thanamandi area of the Rajouri district upto Bafliaz in Poonch district. The group had been sighted deep into the forests, by locals, on many occasions. Among other things, KC had rung alarm bells about the terrorists mingling with the inhabitants in the upper reaches, which could
have dangerous consequences. This mingling with the locals in the upper reaches, we had
cautioned, could help the terrorists build a network in the region which has remained
terrorist-free for nearly a decade. Now see, the terrorists chose an isolated security vehicle,
which, plying without an ROP in the area just a few miles away from the Line of Control (LoC), is the proverbial ‘aa bail mujhe maar’ (come and kill). This certainly raises some
uncomfortable questions. How come the vehicle was allowed to move when there was
no ROP along the route? What was the urgency of allowing a single vehicle to move at the time when the visibility was poor, given the fact that the weather was cloudy and it was raining?
Beyond these legitimate questions, we need to look into the promptness and quick response of the terrorists in attacking the vehicle. The only way for us to explain this incident is that the terrorists did strike only after gathering information from their assets along the route. As mentioned, the terrorists are in the area for the last one year and a half. It cannot be ruled out that it is the same group that attacked the security forces in the later part of the year 2021 and killed at least 8 jawans close to the LoC before the renewal of the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan in February 2022.
According to credible sources, the attack on the army vehicle was carried out by the same group of terrorists who had been floating around the forests. The attack was obviously not a result of the fresh infiltration, as claimed by most media houses. We can only say that the terrorists present in the area have created their assets within the local population during this period, which could pose a greater challenge to the security in the coming days and months

 Momentary lapse of reason?
Coming to the ‘lapses’, yes, there can’t be a foolproof security and intelligence grid. This is
not possible even for the most advanced countries boasting the most sophisticated
human and artificial intelligence. So, let’s talk about the loopholes alone which are quite
evident. Usually there are three domains of security and intelligence grid.
a. The primary domain is of the local police station, police post, the army unit of the
area. In this domain, unfortunately there are visible distractions, post the abrogation
of Article 370. This domain is more into normal policing. Focus rests on petty crimes and criminals, civil disputes, matrimonial disputes, etc. It looks like the police stations are no more a part of the anti- insurgency grid. The Jammu and Kashmir region is facing two major challenges of cross-border terrorism and narcotic smuggling. On both fronts, the police stations across the region are not so active. Of course, their involvement in curbing
other crimes is commendable. In fact, their serious efforts are containing the drug
peddling. However, there is some deviation as far as the police stations being part of
the major security grid is concerned. I really don’t know whether this impression is an
outcome of some government policy.

b. As for the secondary domain, the intelligence agencies (national and regional)
are the most important, pivotal and indispensible part of the security grid
against terrorism and its ecosystem. It has again two domains: preventive intelligence
and post incident analysis. It is very disturbing to observe that there was no
intelligence input on the Poonch attack which certainly could have helped in preventing the tragic incident. Drones aren’t much help detecting terrorists hiding in a dense forest area. The Spring season and greenery in the Poonch and Rajouri districts come much earlier than in the Kashmir region. At this stage, we have a complete green cover in Rajouri and Poonch
districts as compared to the Kashmir division. So drones are of no help. So again,
one has to rely on human intelligence. The security and intelligence agencies, not realising their immense role in fighting terrorism, have, to a great extent, lost their
human assets over a period of time. If the intelligence agencies of our country could
instill fear among the terrorists sitting in Pakistan, and make them run for their lives
and create a situation of insecurity for them within Pakistan, why is there this
impression of losing human resource in the hinterland? What I understand is that the
law enforcing agencies like Enforcement Directorate (ED), National Investigation
Agency (NIA) and the CBI, during the last three or four years, have intensified their
efforts in wiping out the terror ecosystem, and their activities have, to a great extent,
crippled the support system to terrorism. The support system has been, to a large
extent, shattered and pushed to the margins. The narrative too has lost dominance. It has certainly brought the overall situation to a point where we usually, as human beings, start presuming that the situation is under our control. This presumption, I am afraid, has inculcated a culture of being a little laidback among the intelligence agencies. Not much attention is being paid to building the human intelligence grid which has no alternative.
On the other hand, terrorists still rely on human networking. It is perhaps because of
this complacency that basic preventive intelligence, the backbone of any policy
planning, is missing. We know that 100% deterrence is not possible. There were intelligence inputs about the Pulwama attack in February 2019; yet the incident took place. But preventive intelligence, undeniably, is a pre- requisite for an efficient security grid. What is being observed is that the intelligence agencies are quick and prompt in
generating intelligence with regard to normal crimes. But there is some laziness in
generating actionable intelligence for counter-terror operations. Post incident analysis, I am sorry to say, has little bearings. That said, the terrorists and their handlers across the borders have tactically retreated. There is an opinion that the militancy related incidents in the Kashmir valley have gone to zero level because terrorists are not striking. It would be a little crazy to claim that they are not allowed to do so.
That said, some insiders attribute the failure to what they call ‘fiddling’ with the set mechanism of operational procedures, to the culture of experimentation and adventurism. People at the policy planning level are more into going for new experiments rather than strengthening the set procedures. There are distractions and deviations and in the process, important threads are lost.

c. The third domain is the backup of the technical and artificial intelligence. On this
front, the country has advanced remarkably. We have very active cyber cells. But again, certain things, because of their geographic or strategic components, are beyond the purview of this domain. The Poonch attack has, once again, brought to the fore this fundamental observation that human intelligence has no replacement. Finally, there has to be an honest investigation into this incident and responsibility has to be fixed to avoid repetition of such dastardly acts in the future.

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