Sunday, September 29, 2013

What Happened in Samba? Cross Border Terrorism or Pak Army Special Ops?

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Lt Gen HS Panag, former Northern Army Commander, Lt Gen JS Bajwa, who recently retired as DG Infantry, and Pravin Sawhney, Editor, Force magazine, share their thoughts on the brazen cross border attack from Pakistan in Samba. What is India up against? Cross Border Terrorism or Pak Army Special Ops? Proxy War or Sub Inertia Conventional War?

And our continued lack or response to such provocations - is it the Arjun Syndrome or Just Funk?

Let's first review the facts.

On September 26, three heavily armed men attacked the Hiranagar police station in Kathua district of J&K at around 6:45 AM and gunned down five police personnel. They then commandeered a truck on the national highway, shot dead the helper, and forced the driver to take them to the Army area in Samba district, where they attacked a 16 Cavalry camp in Mesar area and shot dead the second in command of the regiment, Lt. Col. Bikramjit, and two soldiers. The commanding officer of the regiment and three other soldiers were injured in the shootout.

A fierce gun battle ensued between the attackers and the army personal, which ended with all the three attackers being killed.

Following the attack, the Home Minister of India confirmed to the press that the attackers came from Pakistan. They are reported to have sneaked into the Indian territory from across the International Border (IB), which runs close to Hira Nagar police station.

The TOI announced the gunning down of the attackers with the headline - Army operation over in J&K's Samba, all three terrorists gunned down.

You may have noticed that I have not used the word terrorists to describe the three attackers from Pakistan, because I am not sure 'terrorists' is the right word to describe them.

According to Wikipedia, terrorism commonly refers to those violent acts which are intended to create fear amongst people. The Samba attack was not intended to create fear amongst Indian people, it was intended to kill Indian uniformed personnel in the border area. A job that is normally assigned to soldiers.

Terrorists are not trained by governments in clearly identifiable camps. Soldiers are. Terrorists don't attack across the international borders, soldiers do.

The Wikipedia defines a soldier is one who fights as part of an organized land-based armed force. To my mind, the three attackers fit the Wikipedia definition of a soldier.

So, were the three men who attacked Hiranagar police station and the 16 Cavalry camp in Mesar area killing 9 uniformed personnel and one civilian terrorists or soldiers?

Remember, soldiers can be part of the regular army with well laid out terms of service, or they can be irregulars with nebulous terms of service.

Was the Samba attack a terrorist attack, or a Pakistani special operation executed by Pakistani army irregulars?

The press, the politicians, even retired soldiers have all referred to the incident as a terrorist attack.

Is it possible we are referring to the three attackers as terrorists because the consequence of referring to them honestly as Pakistani irregulars on special ops would only bring shame on us because we would not be able to explain to ourselves and the world why we are not retaliating across the border from where those irregulars came?

Is Pakistan taking advantage of a weak political leadership in India - focused on its own survival and, by its own doing, bereft of sound military advice - erode Indian sovereignty in J&K.

If so, those in power need to realize that India's accommodation of increasing Pak provocations make it like the frog who dies because water temp rises to a boil slowly.

I know I share my doubts with many other concerned citizens of the country - young and old. To clear the misgivings I consulted two experts who have devoted their lives to military affairs.

  1. Lt Gen HS Panag, former Northern Army Commander, a no nonsense soldier with a sharp intellect, a hard taskmaster, and  a just leader with Teflon clean image.
  2. Lt Gen JS Bajwa, who recently retired as DG Infantry and is the author of two books on PLA, with the latest titled Modernisation of the Chinese PLA: From Massed Militia to Force Projection
  3. Pravin Sawhney, Editor, Force, India's leading defense magazine

My questions to them were

  1. What is India faced with in J&K - Cross Border Terrorism or Cross Border Special Ops?
  2. Has Pakistan upped the ante with a sub inertia conventional war in addition to its on going proxy war? (A conventional war finely calibrated to remain below a threshold that would compel a weak political leadership to react.)
  3. Is the lack of response from India the Arjun syndrome (We are family) or bureaucratic and political funk from the rotting system?

Both the experts opined that India was dealing with terroriism, not Pak special operations.

Pravin Sawhney


Pravin Sawhney said:

"I believe they were terrorists who were provided intelligence, weapons and training by the Pakistan Army.

"They would not have sent their Special Forces so deep inside Jammu because if any of them had been caught alive, it would have had serious implications. Pakistan Army is the only army in the world which has perfected the capability to fight simultaneously at two levels with regular and irregular forces. This started with the 1999 Kargil war."

It is interesting that the Force editor refers to the terrorists as being part of Pakistan's Army's irregular forces.

Lt Gen JS Bajwa


The depth and logic of General Bajwa's response was awe inspiring and enlightening. I think everyone concerned about the strife in Jammu and Kashmir needs to pontificate on it.

Explaining why he feels the three attackers were terrorists, the General said:

"There is an input received to suggest that the 'attackers' sought the location of the Army School. So that does put them in the amorphous genre of 'terrorist'. The aim of the terrorist is to target the civil unarmed population to put pressure on the Civil Govt. Targeting the Army/Police also results in hardships for the civil pop since more restrictions/arrests/searches etc are the fallout. Consequently the population sides with the 'terrorists' and make governance impossible and all sorts of international agencies pounce in and sit in judgement - unless the govt has the will to remain firm.

"The selection of a target and timing are a factor which needs constant analysis from non-stop intelligence inputs. There is a serious weakness here. Intelligence agencies keep giving general information periodically, especially on the occasion of national events such as Republic Day and Independence Day.  That's not "intelligence", that's just an alert to be on guard all over."

General Bajwa then explained why India should not be drawn into a conventional war based on provocations such as the one in Samba.

"The Armed forces being drawn into a conventional war has to translate the achievement of the political end state into achievable military objectives. The Pak Army may suffer a serious military defeat and even lose territory, but is that going to wipe out the terrorist groups? Non-State actors that they are, will bounce back reinvigorated."

As to options available to India to counter the attacks, General Bajwa says:

"Armed UAV's like the 'Predator' are one essential acquisition synergised with IW to harass them persistently.

"The country has other elements on National Power - Diplomacy! Where is the military hardware originating from? Why is that not brought out in international forums as a major flank of action? If weapons are manufactured locally target these persistently. Targeting only the end product of the 'terrorist factory' will be a never ending process."

And perhaps the most profound of General Bajwa's thoughts for restoring peace in J&K - mount a truth offensive!

"As I learned in Punjab, the tide turned against the terrorists the day people realized that these persons have only a personal agenda and any claim to an ideology or 'cause' were a facade, the information about terrorist movement and whereabouts began pouring in which altered the situation dramatically in just six months."

Lt  Gen HS Panag

Lt Gen HS Panag, lived up to his reputation with brevity that outdid a long discourse.

"Pakistani terrorists are as capable of special operations as any special forces. Also, their operations are meticulously planned by the ISI / Pak Army," he said.

"So how does it matter who the Samba attackers were?" he asks?

How Well Are Pak Terrorists Equipped?

A point that each of the three experts made is that Pak terrorists are very well equipped and trained and their operations meticulously planned.

So what exactly do the 'terrorists' carry on a cross border raid?

 Lt Gen JS Bajwa explains


"Terrorist operations are backed with a well oiled machinery running on the other side with planning and executive control. Communication nodes ensure the terrorists are in contact with their control centers throughout. These fellows are on suicide mission alright, but their operations are not limited like those of suicide bombers.

A terrorist is more-or-less armed and equipped in a standard way So it is clear that


  1. One AK-47/56/74 rifle.
  2. One filled magazine with 30 rounds 7.62mm ammunition. At times a second loaded magazine is taped with the other for quick change.
  3. 4/5 filled mags in the harness on his chest which also acts as Bullet Proof Jacket.
  4.  Four hand grenades.
  5. At times a senior cadre member carries an additional weapon in the form of a 7.62mm Chinese pistol.
  6. Mob phone.
  7. GPS.
  8. Photocopy of Pak restricted maps of the area.
  9. At times THUARIA satellite communication set.
  10. Dry fruits.
  11. Some medicines and first aid kit."