January 10, 2016

Pathankot Lessons

THE Pathankot terrorist attack has come within four weeks of the announcement of the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan during the visit of Sushma Swaraj to Islamabad.  Such an attack was anticipated by many observers on both sides of the border. The Modi visit to Lahore may have just speeded up the plan to attack. The counter- terrorist action at the IAF base in Pathankot has led to the deaths of seven defence and security personnel.  It took three and a half days to flush out the six armed men and eliminate them.  The BJP government which had arrived at the position of resuming the dialogue after a flip-flop of calling off talks twice in the past year, must now stay on course and not let the extremist-jihadi  groups call the shots.  The Pathankot incident, in fact, strengthens the government’s hand when it takes up terrorism on the agenda in the talks. It underlines the continuing failure of the Pakistani State to deal with those jihadi groups which have the patronage of sections of the intelligence and security establishment.


The time table drawn up for the talks must be adhered to with the terror issue getting due priority. Any reversal will only cramp India’s strategic options and resumption of confrontation will debilitate India’s economic recovery and progress.


While this is the external posture to be adopted, what is urgently required is a review of the muddled and unfocussed response to the terrorist action.  Some security experts have called it a debacle.  There are a number of questions which have arisen about the whole operation.  First of all, there was sufficient warning about the attack since the terrorist squad had hijacked a Superintendent of Police’s car, and the SP concerned was able to alert the police authorities about the incident.  There was sufficient time for the matter to be taken up at the level of the National Security Advisor. The air base was put on red alert and NSG commandos were flown in at the insistance of the NSA Ajit Doval.  Yet the six terrorists were able to penetrate the outer perimeter of the base and enter.  Why was the army not called in for combing operations, especially since there is a big army base in Pathankot?  The defence of the perimeter was left to the Defence Security Corps jawans, consisting of retired military personnel. It is they who suffered the maximum casualties. There seems to have been no proper coordination between the various agencies and forces.  The home minister declared the operation over and successful after the first day and had to withdraw his tweet subsequently.  This speaks of the inept way the whole operation has been conducted.


The Modi government must accept that there has been bungling which raises various disturbing questions.  The government should not stand on prestige; it must acknowledge the shortcomings and conduct a proper probe so that such mistakes do not recur again.


(January 6, 2016)