Twelve days after a suicide bomber rammed into a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Pulwama district in south Kashmir, killing 40 troopers, Indian Air Force (IAF) flew deep into the Pakistan territory and destroyed terror launch pads. The country burst into celebrations over the pre-dawn air strikes and televisions channels went gaga over it, setting up virtual war rooms and anchors falling short of adjectives to describe the strike.
This will satisfy, to some extent, hawks who began chanting revenge the day 40 troopers were killed on Feb. 14. Everyone wanted Pakistan taught a lesson because Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the terror outfit that claimed responsibility for the attack, is headquartered in Pakistan and is said to enjoy patronage of the Pakistan Army and security establishment.
The IAF jets flew across the Line of Control (LoC) and destroyed JeM control rooms in the forests of Balakot, a town in Mansehra district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Several Mirage 2000 aircraft dropped 1,000 kg bombs on terrorist camps in Balakot, Chakothi, and Muzaffarabad.
In its official statement, government of India said: “In an intelligence led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, Chief of JeM.”
India called it “non-military preemptive action” to prevent further terror attacks on Indian soil.
The revenge is done, now can we please get down to brass tacks? For that, let’s relook at Pulwama attack and how it was different from the earlier terror attacks in Pathankot in January 2016 and in Uri in September the same year. JeM’s name came up in both these attacks but Pulwama was different. For the first time in more than two decades, a vehicle-borne improvised explosives device (VBIED) was used but a more worrying fact was this: the suicide bomber was a Kashmiri man.
The CRPF convoy – 78 vehicles carrying more than 2,500 troopers – was a sitting duck for the JeM operatives, who had planned the strike only a few days ago. The Jammu-Srinagar national highway through which the convoy passed on Feb. 14 was open to civilian traffic and hence it made it easy for the suicide bomber to ram his Maruti Eeco into a CRPF vehicle, blowing it up and killing 40 CRPF men.
CRPF director general Rajeev Rai Bhatnagar has said repeatedly that the all standard operative procedures (SOPs) were in place during the transport of troopers but even a layperson will say they were not. Why did CRPF move such a big number of troopers in one go? Why was civilian traffic not stopped when the convoy moved on the highway? Imagine what CRPF men would have gone through when they tried to piece together blown body parts of their colleagues. When pictures of the attack appeared, they showed severed body parts, often without a face.
The attack was followed by news reports that requests by CRPF and other Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) for use of helicopters for movement of troops when the roads are closed due to snow fall were pending at the altar of the ministry of home affairs for several months. Security experts may doff at this request and say dominance on the ground is important during the movement of security personnel but some others do agree that the option of using air service should be open to the paramilitary forces, too, like it is to the Indian Army.
The Indian security establishment has not treated CAPF on a par with the Army even though they (CAPF) operate as the first responders as in insurgent situations. A report in India Today quotes some former CRPF officers as saying that believe that they are not “treated on a par” with the army and said the pay for a low-ranking army soldier is 50% higher than the pay of an equivalent soldier in the CRPF or any other paramilitary force. This difference also affects pensions.
Much before the Pulwama, the Confederation of Ex-Paramilitary Forces Welfare Associations requested an upgrade in pay of CAPF personnel regardless of rank.
The Sixth Pay Commission introduced the concept of ‘Non-Functional Financial Upgradation’ (NFFU) in 2006 for government servants in light of the lack of promotional avenues. This was meant to ensure officers didn’t lose motivation, and that salaries and pensions didn’t stagnate in situations where the personnel weren’t at fault.
NFFU initially applied only to Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers but was subsequently expanded to include other all-India services such as the Indian Forest Service and the Indian Police Service. The CAPF also wanted this to be applied to them, but the Centre refused to extend it to them, saying these services didn’t fall within the definition of ‘Organised Group A Services’.
The CAPF officers challenged the government decision in the Delhi High Court which granted their request. The Centre opposed the case.
Military law expert Major Navdeep Singh says the CRPF and other such forces face the maximum stagnation in terms of promotions and pay, and therefore were entitled to the NFFU, more than anyone else. The Supreme Court also thought so when the Centre went to it against the Delhi HC order. The bench of Justices MR Shah and Rohinton Nariman said the purpose of granting NFFU was to give relief to Group A Officers facing the problem of stagnation as fallback option when regular promotions do not come into various factors. “It has come on record that CPMFs are facing huge problems of stagnation, more particularly, on one hand they are not being granted the promotions as most promotional posts are filled by deputation, and, on the other hand, they are denied NFFU,” they said on February 5, 2019.
The NFFU will not necessarily put the CRPF and other CAPF personnel on a par with the Army but still both the UPA and the NDA government dithered on it.
Post Pulwama, the Centre has allowed free air travel between Delhi and Srinagar and between Jammu and Srinagar to all CAPF personnel, and has increased their risk and hardship allowance by 78% for constables, head constables and assistant sub-inspectors and by 47% for ranks higher than inspectors. This will apply to CAPF personnel posted in 10 districts of Jammu and Kashmir, and in eight districts of naxal-affected districts in Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Odisha.
CRPF DG Bhatnagar has told The Times of India in an interview that the battalions posted in Jammu and Kashmir will also have a bomb detection and disposal squad (BDDS) to tackle the problem of IEDs.
These are the things that the government should have done even before Pulwama, Uri or Pathankot happened. Revenge is all right but deterrence is what the government should focus. A head for a head, a kill for a kill will only get us into an endless round of violence. India and Pakistan are both nuclear-weapon states and should not venture into a full-fledged war. Making our forces stronger with more budget on defence procurement and other essential technologies will stand India apart from Pakistan, which is on the verge of destruction because of the proxy war that it has waged against India after the 1971 rout in which a part of it became a different nation.