Para commando deaths can be avoided. A joint special force is crucial
Veteran para commandos of the Indian Army are appalled at the kind of losses they've suffered in the recent past while operating in Kashmir. A senior member of the otherwise tightly knit para commandos community, said that "there is no role for the paras within the borders of the country. The tasks they are being given can be undertaken by the infantry."
Over the past few months the paras have lost a colonel, two Captains, besides two Lance Naiks. The loss of the paras rankles more because they are highly trained and specially equipped. Their deaths are a loss of precious resources, says the veteran.
In 2000, one of the senior officers of the paras headed a committee that took note of the requirements of the parachute regiment. At that time there were three battalions, (1 Paras, 2 Paras, and 21 Paras). The committee had proposed for the addition of one more battalion.
Today, there are nine battalions and the tenth is being raised, but that isn't enough. "They are seriously under-equipped to the extent that they don't even have Tavor assault rifles for all the members of the paras. They end up having to share the total inventory of those rifles, managing its absence with the generic AK-47s and worse, INSAS," says the author of that report.
Too many para commandos have lost their lives. Most of these are situations that the infantry could have handled
Troop survivability is increasingly becoming a major issue, not just for the special forces like the paras, but even the infantry. The body armour these troops use have a ceramic plate in the middle covering the chest and back. It can barely stop a bullet, let alone a fusillade of the automatic and semi-automatic fire that the terrorists now met out.
During the recent Pampore encounter near Srinagar, the paras were deployed without fully assessing the situation, a retired Lieutenant General said. When it was pointed out, that the government building the three terrorists had infiltrated, could have produced a 'hostage situation,' the former officer said the paras aren't equipped to handle negotiations. Their military task is usually behind enemy lines.
The need of the hour
The senior officer is of the belief that the Pampore operation strongly points to the absence of a joint special forces (JSF) command, which could have integrated the various special forces of the country, including the National Security Guards. They could also have drawn from the recently developed commando groups of the other service lines like the Navy (MARCOS) and the Air Force (Garuds).
The JSF was proposed about three years ago by the Integrated Defence Services (IDS) headquarters. They are still waiting for the government's nod for its formation. The bureaucratic hurdles need to be scissored by the political leadership that populates the Cabinet Committee on Security, if not the Defence minister singly or in tandem with the Prime Minister.
But both the UPA II and the Narendra Modi government have sat on the proposals for four joint commands that included the JSF. The losses of para lives are a telling commentary of the higher command's failure in the Indian armed forces.
The central government's media managers recently found the means to publicise all the deaths of the Indian armed forces. This was done with the intention of valorising the soldiers and making a television and publication extravaganza out of it.
The para commandos are ill-equipped in terms of artillery and tackle situations beyond their training
Though well-intentioned, according to one official, it creates an opportunity for the "jihadis to prepare their propaganda videos and literature, besides spinning myths about how one terrorist being killed is equal to four special forces soldiers."
Meanwhile, the army is particularly riled by the way a piece of false news was leaked to the media about a CBI investigation of two Major Generals, who had apparently paid money to the recently retired military secretary, a principal staff officer (PSO), who had presided over the preparation of the former's confidential reports.
"One of the Major Generals has actually filed a defamation suit against a media outlet," a serving senior army official told Catch a few weeks ago. But what is critical is the alacrity with which the Defence Ministry sought to get the matter investigated. To some, it showed that the politico-bureaucratic leadership wanted to hobble the army's senior cadres more; a surprising technique that has Nehruvian roots. Even more interesting is that the Modi government took that route, given its attempt to de-Nehruise contemporary Indian history.
More in Catch: