The reality of State incapacity confronts us after a terrorist attack just as starkly as the heroism of our security forces. Television coverage, by its limited nature, obscures whatever method there is in an assault mounted by security forces during a firefight. The operation against the terrorists at Gurdaspur on Monday, however, highlighted glaring deficiencies. The Punjab policemen rushed to the scene without bulletproof jackets and helmets. Some had inferior self-loading rifles as compared to automatic weapons used by the terrorists. Reports indicate that it took a long time to organise binoculars.
The key thing about responding to emergencies is putting systems in place, to allow unwieldy bureaucracies to act swiftly and purposively. Piecemeal efforts are bound to get exposed sooner or later. Take the case of the Punjab Police’s special weapons and tactics team that was deployed on Monday. The team of commandos, trained in Israel, too rushed into combat without wearing protective gear. What is the point of sophisticated training if drills are not followed? Why should security forces personnel be put in harm’s way even if they are setting out to save others? Why is there a trade-off built into such encounters owing to the way forces are deployed? There are also suggestions of a subtle tussle for control and credit for the operation. Multiple agencies rushed to Dinanagar, including the army and the NSG, but the Punjab government reportedly insisted that its police lead the operation. If the Punjab Police is lauded for the outcome, is that a model that can be replicated in the future? Have the lines of responsibility with each state been clearly delineated along those lines? If arrangements were in place why was there confusion at Dinanagar and mixed messages about the provenance of the attack?
This lack of coordination largely explains why intelligence inputs are not acted on in time. Analysts are now nonplussed as to how the security establishment can be so unprepared, even though the Samba-Kathua belt, which is prone to militant infiltration, is less than two hours away from Gurdaspur. This attack underlines a point made by KPS Gill, the former DGP of Punjab — that regardless of the commando units which can be summoned, the local police is the first in the line of fire in any attack. In that light, the public ought to know how police modernisation efforts are turning out across India. Politicians must take tough decisions on reform rather than resort to easy rhetoric about bravery and sacrifice.