Published in Free Press Journal Page 11, 10 May 2020
Valley Heats Up
At the outset my heartfelt condolences to the bravest of the brave Col Ashutosh Sharma a highly decorated Commanding Officer (CO) along with young Major Anuj Sood, Nk Rajesh Kumar, Lance Naik Dinesh all from 21 RR (GUARDS) and Police Inspector Shakeel Ahmad Qazi who laid down their lives in the service of the nation. Terror incidents are on the rise in the valley. Reports of Pakistan having re-activated its terrorist launch pads, staging areas and training camps after a temporary pause post Pulwama and Balakot strikes was very much expected by the Indian Army. Over 1400 cease fire violations along the Line of Control in the current year and increasing incidents of terror are a pointer to this effect. Indian Army has established a moral ascendancy over the adversary but Handwara and Kupwara incidents have caused some setback.
Indian Army has traditionally remained prepared for spike in cease fire violations (CFVs) and terror incidents. But what is surprising is the casualties that we are taking. In the Kupwara incident of 5/6 Apr 20 we lost five of our brave special forces soldiers and close on its heel we have once again suffered the loss of five of our best warriors. I am sure their sacrifices will not go in vain. Pakistan and its proxies will have to pay a heavy price for these acts of violence. The nation must realize that we are facing a very cunning, remorseless and a filthy enemy who has no human considerations such as pandemic or even Ramzan.
Need for a Re-look
While actions at the strategic level will go on to punish the enemy at our own place and time of choosing, one of our major concern should also be to stop the loss of lives of our soldiers in the future. For this the rank and file of our Army needs to do an internal brainstorming to prevent such incidents from occurring at such regular interval. Success at tactical level can only be achieved when the commanders on ground are provided with accurate intelligence and resources. Flow of information through all channels about the target area during the encounter must be reinforced. Most importantly senior commanders must provide full freedom to the commander on ground to operate. Likewise the commanders on the ground have to remain alive to the changing methodology and attack pattern of the terrorists and revise their drills dynamically. I am sure that the army would be carrying out such reviews but there is a need for its strict implementation on ground. It is here that the role of senior commanders is critical.
It has also been noticed that many a times we overlook lessons learnt from past operations. For example in Pathankot operations we lost an Explosive Expert who despite having vast experience and trained in the United States accidently got killed while recovering a body of one of the slain terrorist. I still carry the burden of that day in being unable to prevent the loss of one of the most qualified and highly trained officer of our great Armed Forces. Mistakes happen but it should be our endeavour to minimise them so that we do not lose precious lives.
Another area which to my mind needs urgent attention is the training at various training establishments of the Army such as the War College and Infantry School. Incidents like Kupwara and Handwara must be immediately analysed, lessons quickly formulated and then included in the various courses. Not that this is not being followed, having been at the helm of affairs of Army War College, I can vouch for that lessons from field are being duly incorporated in training. But my point is that more real time course correction and dynamism has to be introduced in our training establishment.
Another area to be reviewed is intervention by a CO in operations at lower levels. Intervention by the CO himself in the Handwara incident at the House Intervention Team level may be justified as the situation probably demanded the need to save the lives of civilian hostages on priority in the highest traditions of the Indian Army. However, we still need to seriously debate and analyse the need for a commanding officer to lead an actions that is best fought by junior commanders. In my view the training and response needs to be raised to such levels that junior commanders are able to lead their sub units effectively. I also feel the COs must display greater trust in their junior commanders – Kargil is replete with incidents of exemplary performance of our junior leaders. Many a comments are floating in the social media but primarily CO is the central driving force of a unit and his loss renders a unit rudderless and demotivated. Hence, COs must exercise greater caution before taking any action.
Consequent to the irreparable loss of Colonel Ashutosh Sharma, CO of 21 RR there was an operational expediency to immediately post a Commanding Officer to provide the necessary command & control in the unit. There were seven officers who were meeting the qualitative requirements, all seven were contacted on telephone and given one hour to think and forward their willingness to take over command. However, on expected lines all of them without waiting for a second volunteered to takeover during the same telephonic conversation. Finally, Colonel Gagandeep Singh who had already commanded the same unit and was under posting to the prestigious Military Operations Directorate was selected. He drove down soon after the incident and has already taken over the command. Where do you see such dedication in any organization? Such stories of sincerity, dedication and courage abound a plenty in the Indian Armed Forces. It is this culture of indomitable courage that gives me the confidence that we will emerge victorious in any war. I am proud that I have been part of such a wonderful organisation. Jai Hind!