Look for Solutions

Pakistan’s proxy war can be limited by restoring the IAF’s combat edge

Pravin Sawhney

The usual script followed the recent terrorists’ attack on the Sunjuwan army base. The defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman warned that Pakistan will have to pay for the Jammu and Kashmir misadventure and that a counter-terror plan was afoot; Pakistan promised a befitting response. And, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti said that war was not an option and India needed to talk with Pakistan to end the bloodbath.

Meanwhile, one television channel had three generals to discuss India’s military options. While unanimously agreeing that perimeter defence around army bases (especially those close to civilian habitations) should be strengthened to minimise damages, one general, a former northern army commander, conceded that ‘we are left with too few options’. Responsible for the September 2016 surgical strikes, he knew that they neither deterred Pakistan, nor had any serious consequences.

ALL IAF personnel during a parade in Srinagar

Another general, preferring to obfuscate matters, dwelt on the need to understand the Hybrid War unleashed by Pakistan for an appropriate riposte. Hybrid warfare implies a mix of conventional, unconventional, cyber, psychological and diplomatic warfare. Also called the fifth-generation warfare meant to make the enemy fall in line, it should be backed by credible conventional war-fighting capability to be successful. Now, if India had this, why would Pakistan continue with the proxy war? The third general, while underlining the strengths of the Pakistan Army spoke about the need to think two-steps ahead; what they could be was not discussed.

Before we deliberate on the two-steps, let’s discuss the need for securing army bases from terrorist attacks. The government has sanctioned Rs 1,487 crore for building perimeter fences to protect thousands of military bases, units and formations. The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, according to reports, has been mulling over the optimal fence to protect soldiers. Should it be the motion-sensor fence offered by the United States, or the electrified concertina fence coupled with manual patrolling, similar to the one on the Line of Control (LC)?

The motion-sensor fence, which detects any motion close to the fence and can even launch pre-emptive grenade (recent technological advance), is undoubtedly the better option. The Cooperative Monitoring Centre in Albuquerque working under the US’ Sandia Laboratories has been doing commendable work in this area. As a visiting scholar there in 1998, I was shown how the motion-sensors of various kinds were used on the US’ porous border with Mexico to discourage smugglers, bootleggers, criminal and illegal immigrations. Stray animals were a problem, but they could be identified by discerning sensors and sharp observers.

In India, the army has identified a major problem with the motion-sensor fence. The reported one is that since civilian population has mushroomed close to army bases, the motion-sensors are likely to raise frequent false alarms. The way out, it is reasoned, is to isolate army and civilian habitats. Despite this, the army would still do manual patrolling to be doubly sure.

The other option of using concertina fence with a few add-on smart sensors seems to be gaining acceptability (French Safran company could help with tailor-made smart sensors). This would be the natural extension of the fence on the LC since 2004, which the army believes has served it well. However, what about army’s numerous convoys of leave-parties, logistics vehicles, children buses, road opening parties and so on? Surely, ways would be found to secure them as well.

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