The terror attack on an Army camp in Uri has triggered considerable commentary and anger in India. The received wisdom is that the wily adversary obtained an information/intelligence advantage that resulted in the deaths of 18 soldiers at the hands of four terrorists.
Preliminary reconstruction of the Uri attack, based on media reports, suggests that the terrorists had a detailed knowledge of the camp and the element of surprise was used to murderous advantage. Such conjecture draws attention to the possible intelligence lapse, and hence the need for a tentative review of this opaque domain.
A familiar post-event pattern is at play wherein it is being selectively leaked to the media that the intelligence agencies had provided an input that the Uri camp would be targeted in mid-September. How actionable this input was remains indeterminate at this stage.
Reports suggest that the Counter Intelligence Support Unit of 15 Corps, under whose command the Uri base falls, also had issued specific warnings and yet no action was taken. Based on such information, it would be imprudent to conclude that while the intel was available, local commanders were complacent. Hopefully, a detailed review by the Army will establish a more informed narrative about inputs received and action taken or not taken.
One conjecture that could be arrived at—and the word conjecture must be repeated—is the high possibility of insider collusion with the adversary. A camp like Uri and its topography and demographic mix does not allow for a ‘military only’ exclusion. This would be possible much closer to the LoC, but the administrative and logistic requirements of the Brigade HQ would necessitate a fairly steady ingress of non-military personnel into the camp.
One may again infer that there could have been some perfidy at this level and critical information may have been leaked, especially that which cannot be collected by technological means. Did this happen? Only a detailed investigation will establish the veracity of this conjecture.
This investigation, being conducted by the NIA, draws attention to one of the structural issues that plagues the intel grid. In India, intelligence is the domain of specialised agencies that normatively come under ministries. At the state level, the police and state IB have their intel gathering structures and each state has its distinctive expertise.
Post-Kargil and the Mumbai attacks, many areas of inadequacy and departmental stove-piping came to the fore and a major inter-ministerial review-cum-overhaul was recommended. However, professionals who have field experience in J&K aver that major gaps still exist, particularly in intel sharing, and melding of human and tech intel. An investment in HR will lead to a steady stream of high-quality, actionable intel.
This is an area that merits the focused attention of the Cabinet Committee on Security, again. After Kargil. After Mumbai. After Pathankot. And now after Uri.
The writer is director, Society for Policy Studies