Let not the recent incident at Nagrota meet the fate of similar encounters in the past. It should ring warning bells and lessons should be learnt from it

The recent encounter at Nagrota, near Jammu on National Highway (NH) 44, in which four heavily-armed Pakistani terrorists were gunned down by the Indian security forces, has once again exposed the fact that the “Deep State” in Pakistan continues to rule the roost with the singular agenda of bleeding India through a thousand cuts. Similar encounters had taken place on the same highway in the past, too. Pakistan continues to use the International Border (IB) sector as a preferred route of infiltration not only for terrorists but also for narco-terrorism, as it provides the twin advantage of movement into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Punjab. Also, the modus operandi adopted in most cases is near identical. After revocation of Article 370 in J&K, Pakistan’s desperation to create trouble has increased manifold. With the Indian Army adopting a very strong counter-infiltration grid on the Line of Control (LoC) and an equally impregnable counter-terrorism grid inside the Valley, the Pakistan Army has shifted its focus to the IB sector with a comparatively higher success rate.

Pakistan is going through the worst phase of its history. Ever since its formation, the country has suffered the dilemma of identity. Regional loyalties have surpassed national ones, leaving the Pakistan Army alone as a symbol of national identity. This has been exploited by the Army to its advantage by becoming the virtual ruler. To ensure its continued hold over the nation’s defence and foreign policy, the Army has created a myth of India being an existential threat. At the same time it has promoted Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of the Partition and as our jugular vein. Despite Islamabad’s obsession with Kashmir costing it dearly, both economically and strategically, it refuses to relent. Terrorism continues to remain an instrument of its State policy. Kashmir continues to be the raison d’etre for the continued supremacy of its Army.

Politically and economically, Pakistan is on the verge of collapse. Prime Minister Imran Khan is the target of a domestic rebellion against his Government by the conglomeration of 11 Opposition parties under the banner of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Even Imran Khan’s mentor, Chief of the Army Staff General Bajwa, and his ISI chief are not being spared by the public. This has unnerved the Army as it is quite conscious of its image among the people. But that aura is gradually eroding due to the involvement of senior Army officers in corruption. While the common man is finding it difficult to survive, the Army is eating up a large slice of the national budget. The economy is in the doldrums. Saudi Arabia, a liberal donor till now, is unhappy with Imran Khan due to his growing proximity with Turkey. Pakistan is neck deep in debt and is resorting to borrowings to service it. Unemployment and inflation are common and Imran Khan is doing nothing to resolve these issues. His total surrender to China is also being resented by Pakistanis.

Pakistan is close to an implosion at this stage due to the growing turmoil in Baluchistan, increased unrest in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, revolt in Pakistan-Occupied J&K and Gilgit Baltistan and the growing dissent in Sindh due to the ongoing protests by the PDM. Attempts to integrate Gilgit Baltistan as its fifth province and holding of elections there have been met with stiff opposition from the locals. The results of the elections are being contested as fudged. The Balawaristan Movement for an independent Gilgit-Baltistan is gaining momentum.

With the Pakistan Army under tremendous pressure from China to tie down the Indian Army, the time-tested Pakistani formula of creating an India bogey at home has been put into practice to generate an anti-India public opinion. Repeated unprovoked ceasefire violations and attempts to push in terrorists have become a norm. Apart from attempts to distract public attention at home, these are also being used to keep Kashmir in the focus of the international community as a potential flashpoint.

Pakistan’s nuclear blackmail has been exposed and is no longer being used as a threat by its leadership. So it has increased its dependence on terrorist activities in India and the “Deep State” is involved in spreading its tentacles in other parts of the country apart from Kashmir. However, Kashmir for the time-being continues to remain its main focus because of the realisation that with the passing of each day peacefully, Pakistan is losing its relevance there. That was the main reason behind infiltrating a heavily-armed group with about 750 kg of RDX to create mayhem in Kashmir on the eve of the District Development Council elections in J&K.

Plus, China is egging Pakistan on to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir. It needs a hold in Gilgit-Baltistan and does not want to part with Shaksgam and Aksai Chin. Hence, irrespective of the success achieved by us at Nagrota, Pakistan is not going to relent. We have to be proactive and make the cost of such attempts as prohibitive for the “Deep State” as possible.

Unfortunately, the IB sector remains our weakness, which is being exploited by the enemy. Many questions need to be answered by the Border Security Force (BSF) which is responsible for guarding the IB. Why is it that the tunnels are detected only after infiltration has taken place? Why is no action taken to pin responsibility for the lapses? Why are no proactive measures taken to prevent similar failures in the future? Is it lack of resources, professionalism or sincerity?

The Government has spent crores of rupees to equip the BSF so that it can stop infiltration, including the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) to overcome the difficulties of the terrain. Not very long ago BSF officers had displayed to the media a tractor modified for tunnel detection. There were also claims of importing tunnel detection equipment. What happened to all that and why is that equipment not being used?

The BSF has been provided with seismic sensors and any underground disturbance is meant to be picked up by them. Definitely, the digging of a 150 metre-long tunnel should have been picked up by these sensors but it wasn’t. Are these sensors non-functional or have they not been sited and deployed tactically? Incidentally these tunnels serve a dual purpose and the BSF knows that apart from sneaking in terrorists, these are also used for smuggling narcotics. Plus, what was the need to make the detection of the tunnel public? Rather it should have been booby-trapped and kept under surveillance. We have to accept that there are major chinks in our armour as far as guarding the IB sector is concerned and the enemy is exploiting these to its advantage.

Knowing the enemy’s compulsion to keep Kashmir on the boil, strict measures need to be taken to prevent Islamabad from treating the IB sector as a preferred route for infiltration. First and foremost, the BSF needs to reconsider its pattern of deployment of ambushes at night. Apart from avoiding predictability, it needs to give up the pattern of deploying in a single line without depth. For day patrolling, it needs to be provided with detection equipment.

A “no gap pattern” deployment of CIBMS has to be ensured, including liasoning with neighbouring units to cover gaps. The fact that the terrorists trekked on foot for nine km undetected and thereafter boarded a truck on the NH and travelled up to Nagrota unchallenged is a matter of concern and exposes the gaps in the surveillance and vigilance of depth areas and the NH. Hence, armed highway patrols have to be activated. Mobile check posts have to be established to avoid predictability. Cameras need to be installed 24x7. There is an urgent and inescapable need for full body scanners at select places on the NH.

There is a valuable asset of ex-servicemen in these areas. A Border Defence Volunteer Force to strengthen the depth area surveillance and patrolling should be raised for utilising the services of these ex-servicemen. They should be deployed on either side of the NH, up to a depth of five-10 km, depending on the distance of the IB from the NH. It will strengthen the hands of the local police.

A serious review of command and control of all border guarding forces on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the IB is an urgent requirement. To have greater coordination and effective command and control, these need to be placed under the Ministry of Defence and the local Army formation. The present system has been found wanting time and again. Let not this aspect of national security become a victim of turf wars. Let not the recent incident at Nagrota meet the fate of similar encounters in the past. It should ring warning bells and lessons should be learnt from it. Pakistan is not going to change, we will have to change ourselves if we want to have a zero tolerance policy against terror.