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17-min read

Sealing the Border by 2019 is Possible: Philip Campose

There is a massive debate whether India has actually come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with Pakistan. Whether it is possible to seal the borders by 2019, whether enough has been done to fortify defence establishments. Lt Gen Philip Campose, who recently retired as Vice Chief of Indian Army, talks to CNN-New18's Bhupendra Chaubey on his report which addresses the issue.

Bhupendra Chaubey | bhupendrachaube

Updated:December 1, 2016, 12:09 AM IST
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There is a massive debate whether India has actually come up with a comprehensive strategy to deal with Pakistan. Whether it is possible to seal the borders by 2019, whether enough has been done to fortify defence establishments. Lt Gen Philip Campose, who recently retired as Vice Chief of Indian Army, talks to CNN-New18's Bhupendra Chaubey on his report which addresses the issue.

Bhupendra Chaubey: The latest info coming is that the recent attacks have a clear cut link with the Uri attacks. When Uri happened, the entire country was united and we were told that by launching surgical strikes, we have told Pakistan our threshold for pain has come down. Now officers have died - what happens to that threshold of pain we were talking about?

Philip Campose: See what we've got to understand is that these attacks have being going on since early 90s. There's a background to it. There is an operation which was launched by the Pakistan army starting from the late 80's, early 90's, and this was called Operation Tupac - essentially meant to divert militants trained in Afghanistan to Kashmir. Since then these attacks have been going on. If you look at the late 1990's, if you look at the early part of this century, there have been so many attacks. These attacks are known by names. There is a Kaluchak attack, Sanjuvan attack, Tanda attack.

BC: You served in that area; you were the main commanding officer in those troubled areas. What is happening today? Has anything changed, or is our response and strategy still the same?

PC: That's exactly the point I'm making. That these attacks, these tactics have not changed at all. Overall strategy from the Pakistan side - as far as what president Zia had called the strategy of applying a 1000 cuts - that strategy hasn't changed. The tactics which are used by the militants, the same tactics which were used in the 1990's, in the 2000's in the last since 2013 when these attacks have re-commenced, the tactics are exactly the same.

BC: Are our responses also the same?

PC: That's where certain loopholes are apparent from what happens. Most of the time our tactics are right, which is why we aren't aware of so many of the attacks that take place. There are so many attacks which are taking place which we don't sort of remember because we only remember Pathankot, Uri and now Nagrota. We remember them either because of the importance of the target or we know them because of the number of casualties. But every time we are able to neutralise a terrorist successfully in a fast time frame with little or no casualties, we forget about the incident. The Army has been successful many a time. But every once in a while, call it the law of averages or..

BC: But one of the world's largest armies cannot function on the law of averages. India also needs to have a mechanism to ensure these incidents never happen. Terrorists do have an element of surprise, be that as it may..

PC: So let me put it this way. There are two ways it has to be handled. One, is a strategic angle. I told you about President Zia and his Operation Tupac which was incidentally thought in the early 80's and was put into place in late 90's by which time he had already died. That Operation Tupac is still on. So when anyone in Pakistan says that he isn't involved, he doesn't know what is happening..

BC: Every day we get a Pakistani general who says Indians are lying...

PC: So when you say Pakistani army or Pakistani government is not aware, if they want to show their credentials as being honourable then they must make surely, that publicly they announce that Operation Tupac which was conceived and started execution in the 90's is no longer there. That strategy on the Pakistan side has to be handled strategically by us

BC: I am now trying to figure out if Pathankot or Nagrota, info is coming in that there is link between Nagrota and Uri as far as handlers are concerned. You were told by the government to help them formulate a mechanism to insulate our defense mechanism across the country. What has happened to that report?

PC: Before I come to that, let me just continue what I was talking about. The strategic means of handling a strategy which has been applied by Pakistan for so many years. When we talk of a strategy, it has to be applying all elements of India's comprehensive national power. So we are talking about political, we are talking about diplomatic, we are talking about economic. There was a lot of discussion on all this when Uri took place. As to what should be the response to Uri, every day on TV you could see a host of ideas coming out. But that's what the government has to do at a strategic level to make sure that as far as the political authority and military authority in Pakistan gets the message and they reverse their strategy of exporting terror.

BC: Isn't that wishful thinking? Are you saying we can create an environment where we can force Pakistan to roll back its terror-sponsoring activity?

PC: It can, definitely. The day Pakistan understands how much it is losing by continuing with the strategy, that is where you have to make sure message goes across

BC: How do we make sure back home our defence units are not being attacked in the manner they are being attacked.

PC: First part like I said is the strategy. The strategy is very important. Because unless at the political and army level in Pakistan they decide to rollback on Operation Tupac, on the strategy of sending terrorists into India, unless they rollback the strategy, the attacks will keep coming

BC: If that doesn't happen, what does India do?

PC: So that is one part of it which we must work at. Like I said, apply all elements of India's comprehensive national power. Use your political power, use your diplomatic power, use your economic leverages but that is something which the government of India should continue to make efforts at. Now to come to the tactics of it. When you come to the tactical level, there is somebody who is sending terrorists, they keep coming in, keep coming up.. we know how these modules work. The tactics of it starting from the border. How do you ensure he doesn't cross the border or the LoC

BC: Is it possible for you to seal the borders? Rajnath Singh says by 2019 the entire border will be sealed. Is that possible?

PC: Definitely it can be done

BC: By 2019 it can be done. You see, as it is if you say see by the time we started the fence. Before the border fence, the LC fence came up terrorists were walking across at will. There were so many incidents taking place in hinterland India and Kashmir. But the moment the fence came up there was a drastic fall.

BC: Is that something the government would seriously be thinking of? Because I do know the Defence Minister has tried to take a whole worldview of opinions from individuals including you but what has come out of those opinions? Is the government really seriously implementing those opinions

PC: Yes because I myself did a study after Pathankot on what could have gone wrong that. And also after that reviewed the security of all defence installations. Simultaneously there was a second committee which was checking out the issues of border management under Mr Madhukar Gupta. Now that committee has submitted its reported. And it is based on that report that the Home Minister has said that by a certain time they will implement whatever recommendations that were made by the Madhukar Gupta Committee.

BC: The criticism sir, the criticism is that we are not taking the business of fortifying our defence establishments our defence installations in our countries seriously. How do you address that criticism?

PC: The fact is that there are a lot of loopholes and let me be very clear about that. When I had done my study, when I had reviewed the security of all defence installations - I definitely put down that a lot needs to be done. Which means that we have to go for technology. Because physical measures can be useful only up to a point and you have to bring in technology. But with technology comes cost. And you know the number of defence installations there are across the length and breadth of the country. So far as the government is concerned they have to make the funds available. Prioritise the ones which are closer to the border, the ones which are more easily accessible to the border are the ones which have to be addressed first. But the action must start. As far as I am concerned the action must have already started because I submitted my report over 6 months back and I'm sure that the government and the 3 services - mind you the services aren't waiting for the government to..

BC: The point that comes to my mind is that we're having this conversation at a point of time when PM Modi each day is going out of his way to say that I am looking for a Digital India. India must move to a digital economy. Are you saying from your study, from your feedback that you have gotten from the government, are you saying that when it comes to providing technology to the Armed forces , is there a lack of funds is there a lack of willpower - is Babudom triumphing over the armed forces?

PC: I don't think there is any lack of willpower. All of us are very conscious that our defence installations particularly those closer to the border are vulnerable. Because there is a certain objective of attacking military and security installations which are closer to the border. And I'm sure all of us whether it is the government ,whether is it is the military commanders whether it is the people on the ground, they are all working towards removing this vulnerability. And the fact is that when you have huge perimeters which are being covered just by walls combined with fences or just fences - there will not be enough manpower to sort of man these entire perimeters.

BC: Is there any international examples that come to mind. For instance I don't see stories like this being reported from America or the UK. Is there an international example that comes to mind that India needs to perhaps emulate or India needs to look at? As far as fortifying defence installations is concerned

PC: See fortifying defence installations or general perimeter security - US, Mainland India doesn't need these. Of course when they are deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan they would make sure the issue of perimeter comes up. But if you were to look at a country where they would have to develop this sort of security system in a permanent manner. I would think of Israel because over the years they have had a threat which they have had to respond to and as we are all aware, over the years they have managed to ensure that these attacks are not successful anymore.

BC: Let's look at the attacks that took place in Nagrota. Look at the sheer audacity which has been shown by the terrorists. The ease with which they manage to enter - lob a few grenades at our soldiers armed with our guns. So let's look at it this way. Has the time come for us to create certain rings, certain layers around our defence installations. Is the problem according to you the entry point itself? Do we take the entry point seriously?

PC: I was telling you earlier that we start at the border. How do you protect a defence installation? First you start with Intelligence. There has to be a flow of Intelligence. Our Intelligence agencies should be able to warn you in advance that there is an attack imminent and these sort of things these days are again technology which you have to..

BC: Do you think we have to invest more in building Intelligence assets along the border, across the border?

PC: I'm sure the government is conscious of this and I'm sure they must be making lots of efforts. And I'm sure the Intelligence is coming in.

BC: What about the first layer then?

PC: The first layer is Intelligence. Unless someone is monitoring the communications networks, the data networks and being able to pick up the signals. Unless that happens it makes it so much more difficult on the ground for the troops. The second like I mentioned to you is the border. And then you've got the space between the border and the military unit. Which could be 5 kms, or 10 or 20 or 30. Now this space you have to make sure it is covered in some manner or the other - by patrols, by ambushes, by checkpoints. And there has to be very close co-ordination between the police and military in these areas.

BC: I want to draw your attention to Nagrota. Look at the distance, look at the line of attack. The timing of the change of guard as the attack is taking place - it's almost as if the local intelligence of the terrorist today is far superior to the local intelligence that we seem to have as far as Pakistani activity is concerned. Would that be a fair criticism?

PC: I wouldn't generalise it at the manner. But if you study these attacks, right from the time they started in the 90s to what has happened in Nagrota the tactics are almost the same. The timing of it, the number of people , the weapons they use, the way they come in. In fact if you look at the pictures of Nagrota, you can mistake them for the pictures of Sambha of August 2013.

BC: That's what I'm trying to figure out. All these examples that you've given us - you've said Pakistan's approach is the same. I agree Pakistan's approach is the same. I'm trying to figure out that when the present day government said that our approach has changed now in terms of dealing with Pakistan, has our approach really changed on the ground? Is something different happening on the ground according to you?

PC: See strategically, we are all aware, I don't have to tell you -we have all followed the events after Uri. We know what happened with the surgical strikes. As to the pursuit of those actions, you would be as aware as I am what the government is doing politically, what our diplomats are doing, what are the sort of economic leverages we are applying.

BC: Chest thumping, you know. The feeling that the government has tried to convert this into a political tamasha of sorts when the surgical strikes happened. Therefore my question is - the feeling was that the government has given a befitting reply to Pakistan. What should the government do now post-Nagrota?

PC: The government must do exactly what it did after Uri

BC: Another surgical strike?

PC: Surgical strike.. I'm now not talking of something tactical. At that time the surgical strike which is a very tactical action was used to sort of address a situation which had built up strategically. And there was a sense you had at least addressed the trauma which the entire country seemed to be going through. Now as far as the strategic part is concerned, what we had started or at least, appeared to have started at the time of Uri must be gone through. You have to have strategic options politically, diplomatically, economically, militarily at the higher level. All this has to be gone through by the government.

BC: Therefore in conclusion if I were to ask you sir, that if you can list out five things. I am asking you this because I know you have been closed associated with having provided some kind of an idea to the government about how to modernise the Indian Army, if you were to suggest 5 steps for the Government to take to ensure that what has happened in Uri and Nagrota does not happen again, what would those five steps be?

PC: Firstly, we must have a strategic plan to deal with this problem which Pakistanis has generated for over 25 years now. There has to be strategy in place for how do you deal with this. Part of the strategy is modernising the Indian Army and the Indian Armed Forces. That part unfortunately, which I am aware of because of the various appointments that I held in the Army, that part is not happening.

BC: Modernisation of the army remains a big stumbling block..

PC: Modernisation of the army, hollowness of the army, deficiencies within the Army - now all these do not take place in a structured manner. Enough of budget is not allocated to the defence forces, Whatever is allocated is taken away, there is no real plan to modernise the army, to make sure the Army is as strong as it is meant to be. If you have a strong Army and deterrents are in place then the other side would be very careful.

BC: When you say modernisation of the army, there's a roadblock on that front - do we not have enough ammunition? Do we not have enough technology with us? Do we not have manpower? Or do we not have finances?

PC: Manpower is not really the problem. Manpower is the means we have been applying to address shortfalls of technology, modernisation. If you are using old equipment and you are trying to buy new and you are not able to buy the new equipment you have to fill up the shortfall somewhere. So you end up building more military units with more manpower. Manpower has to be reduced at some stage but before that the military, the Army has to modernise.

BC: So if Pakistan is this terror-sponsoring factory. Pakistan clearly resembles a factory which will continue sending these Mujhahideen and Fidayeen into our country. Do you believe that the only way to neutralise them, how do you ensure they do not enter our territory. And if they are in our territory that they do not inflict the kind of damage that has been inflicted on our defence installations and senior army officers. How does one ensure that?

PC: The first part of it.. it has to be handled by the country strategically in a co-ordinated manner where you are applying all elements of India's comprehensive national power in a co-ordinated manner to give the message to Pakistan that this must stop. And this sort of strategy of a 1000 cuts which has been going on for over 25 years must be rolled back. So that comes from one part. Next it comes from everything tactical - like I said - an Intelligence part, the border part, sealing the borders, making sure that technology is being used to make sure that somebody doesn't cross the border and if he has crossed it, you get enough of warning. Then it's the area in between. You coordinate between the police and the military. The military must get enough warning. The moment someone crosses the border and is sort of approaching a military unit. And then comes the military unit itself. Technology has to be inducted to make sure that all our military units are properly sealed, that there are no loopholes in the external perimeter security and in the access control. And the moment someone makes an attempt to get into the military unit or gets into the military unit, the warning must go off in the control room.

BC: I just hope that all of the points you have made today on this special program are points which are being heard very, very carefully and closely by the government. Because what's happened in Uri, what's happened now is something which should not be acceptable to anyone. The Indian Army is one of the most glorious institutions in our country, in the whole world and may I say, it's time for the political class to stand up, to forget the political bickering which is taking place in Parliament and unify and ensure that Pakistan doesn't get the upper hand in this battle.

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