New Delhi: General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, Lt Gen KJ Singh, speaks to The Indian Express and gives an insight into the new strategies worked out by the Command to take on its traditional adversary on the western borders, as well as the counter terrorism measures to control infiltration.
How has the operational doctrine of Western Command evolved in the past two years with respect to Pakistan?
The very concept of ‘decisive victory’ appears to be giving way to ‘stalemates’ as seen in Iraq and Chechanya. The possible way forward is to apply overwhelming forces targeting common centre of gravity. In our context it translates to application of Strike Corps. These Strike Corps, which are fixed in the Order of Battle (ORBAT) i.e. one per command on western front, were also getting fixed in their application. We have practised using two Strike Corps in the same theatre to cause psychological dislocation. Unlike the desert, here you do not need to go in deep as the objectives are shallow and sensitive. If you apply sufficient force you can get decisive victory. We have wargamed it and also practised on ground.
Are there any more elements to this?
Yes. Hybrid warfare has become a part of conventional warfare now. Stalemate in conventional warfare is also taking place due to outbreak of hybrid warfare, a distinct possibility in our case. Even when you go in deep you may have to deal with Jihadi elements who may be meshed with elements of the adversary’s army. We have practised counter measures and stabilisation operations for this.
Has any change in behavior been observed with respect to pushing in terror from Pakistan?
It does not seem to have changed. New areas are being explored with the movement of terror from the Samba area to Gurdaspur area now. We have received information that elements are even experimenting with hang gliders for terror attacks and so we have to remain vigilant. The border belt must be sanitised and the drugs smuggling in Punjab and cattle smuggling in Jammu area must be dealt with harshly. We have found lot of supposedly mentally ill people roaming in border areas. Recently two people from Kerala were caught there. We have asked the civil authorities to investigate. It seems our defences are being tested. More coordination with BSF and more aerial surveillance is needed.
What new measures have been taken to protect the vital National Highway 44 between Pathankot and Jammu which runs very close to International Border and has seen many attacks?
I have proposed that an alternate route to connect Pathankot in Punjab to Udhampur in J&K must be developed. A road already exists which has to be strengthened. This Dhar-Udhampur axis will take the vital highway from Pathankot to the valley away from the reach of the adversary as at some place along with existing highway the International Border (IB) is just eight km away. I have also proposed that an alternate railway link should also be put in place along this new axis so that there is redundancy in our defence. The local MLAs and political representatives have already taken up this issue with the Union Railway Minister. We also want that some military stations should be set up along with new road so as to provide an element of security to it.
Were you satisfied with the response to Pathankot terror attack given the criticism that it took too long?
As far as the Army’s response is concerned, it was timely. Our troops reacted in time bound manner and the contact with the terrorists was established well in time. Our Infantry Combat Vehicles were pushed into service and we used them effectively. However, care had to be exercised because the area where the terrorists were hiding had a village in the backdrop. Later, the National Security Guards took over the operation and conducted it.
What about the controversy that there were six terrorists while bodies of only four were found?
This aspect was dealt with by the NSG, which had received information that someone had seen movement of two terrorists inside that particular building. NSG is armed with sophisticated equipment and they dealt with the situation as per their assessment.
What specific measures have brought results in dealing with infiltration in Jammu area?
We have put into place schemes like ‘Jagruk Hindustani’ and ‘Buland Haunsle’ along the IB in Jammu area upto Akhnoor.
This has immensely helped us to have a headstart on those terrorists who manage to infiltrate. Meanwhile, we have also increased our defence tiers along the IB and for the safety of the villagers who come under fire from Pakistan. We, along with state government, are ensuring construction of 26 bunkers which will be two-roomed structures with separate enclosures for men and women to take shelter during firing.
Western Command also has the responsibility of catering to Chinese presence opposite Himachal Pradesh in Tibet. What operational improvements have been made there lately?
The area was called Sugar Sector till some years back and was later upgraded to a regular Army brigade and now it has further been upgraded to an Independent Infantry Brigade. The force levels which we have there are optimum for now. There is a move to establish an airstrip in Kaza in that area which would give boost to the operational capabilities. We have also started a practice of close coordination with Northern Command over developments in the area.
What steps have been taken to ensure that the officer shortage which affects Army units does not impinge on operational readiness?
When I was commissioned, we used to have nearly two dozen officers in a unit but this figure is now down to an average of eight or nine. Here in Western Command we have practised and put into place a system in which mobilisation of units for operations, which is a cumbersome and important task, will be exclusively dealt with by the Junior Commissioned officers (JCOs). I have taken out the officers from the equation leaving them to deal with other.