As the former GOC of the Nagrota Corps, the recent terrorist related incident resulting in loss of precious lives was a cause for much anguish and introspection. I am reminded of two incidents in my army career which have left an imprint on my thinking in regard to security and access control. In the first, while commanding an infantry battalion in J&K (Samba) I had requested for funds to improve the vast perimeter fencing of the unit area to keep out trespassing civilians and cattle. The GOC while being briefed on it nonchalantly remarked that during his days when the army camped, civilians avoided coming close to the general area leave alone daring to trespass the lines! Such was the fear and awe in which army units were held. Sadly, just after a few years, Samba was rocked not once but twice by terror attacks on its garrison. Kaluchak military station also suffered a horrendous and most painful terror strike on its family quarters. Thus the attack in Uri and elsewhere on army posts/stations is symptomatic of a radically changed and fragile scenario which urgently begs a paradigm shift not only in our thinking, but also in our doctrinal approach to access control and the response/mitigation mechanism. This, in my personal opinion, can only succeed if driven by example and strictly enforced in a ‘Top Down’ approach.
The second example, which is a pointer to the huge chasm between us and other professional armies, also supports the merit of, and need for the ‘Top Down’ approach. While I was the MA in our High Commission in London, the Chief visited UK. After the ceremonial guard of honour near the Admiralty Arch, both the Chief’s walked down to the UK Ministry of Defence office located nearby. Here, the British Chief and the Indian Chief, in full ceremonial uniform, were smartly stopped by the alert sentries, identified and allowed in one by one through a locked one way opening reinforced bullet proof gate. The British MA had earlier warned me of this strict and mandatory protocol and I had prewarned our Chief. The aim is to demonstrate that respect for access control has to be set in motion by example by the officers, and more so the senior commanders. Unless we empower and train our sentries and QRT’s (quick reaction teams), they are unlikely to get the self-confidence and professional pride which is sine qua non for a fool proof and professional access control. It is indeed ironic that some of the well managed five star hotels and establishments give more importance to access control than some lax defence establishments.
Terrorists and intruders get emboldened by each setback we suffer. There is thus a crying need to raise the bar many notches on this infirmity and do so very fast. It has been traditional that look out sentries/ listening posts and OP’s have been an important lynch pin and our first line of defence in preventing suspect entry and ensuring security as well as warning time. We must revisit and reinforce these elements by empowering them with high technology and laying down strict processes besides monitoring and training them in these measures almost constantly. No one, most of all officers, should have any qualms whatsoever in stopping and subjecting themselves without irritation or rancour to stringent checks or delays whether in or out of uniform. There is no loss of dignity in getting out of your vehicle or even flag cars to get them checked out and for the occupants to walk a few steps to be identified and cross the entry barriers. It is also morally binding on all commanders to commend good sentries and report/take to task lax systems. We must realise and accept that we are in a near war zone and need to use our military expertise and leadership to thwart the designs of terrorists and our enemies by painstakingly upgrading our access control architecture to make it near impregnable and put in place foolproof SOP’s to mitigate and neutralise damage should an incident occur. We owe this to ourselves, our soldiers, families and our nation!
TERRORISTS AND INTRUDERS GET EMBOLDENED BY EACH SETBACK WE SUFFER. THERE IS THUS A CRYING NEED TO RAISE THE BAR MANY NOTCHES ON THIS INFIRMITY AND DO SO VERY FAST.