10 January 2016

Pathankot mysteries and “befitting” reply

Posted on January 5, 2016 by Bharat Karnad

Like after every intruding terrorist induced-crisis, in the latest one in Pathankot, that’s perhaps seeing closure now, one discerned a despairing pattern of prior intelligence, wrong cues, and absence of coordination between a multiplicity of agencies — Border Security Force, Punjab Police, National Security Guard, each with their separate field intelligence outfits, and all tasked with dealing with terrorism incidents but each succeeding only in getting in the other’s way. The army with a large presence in the area, meanwhile, was not called in other than as after thought. And, by way of comic relief, there were the familiar interventions prematurely to congratulate “our” brave men tackling the terrorists followed by harrumphing promises of a “befitting reply” (from Home Minister Rajnath Singh and RSS favourite Road & Transport minister Nitin Gadkari) followed by silence and then embarrassed admission of security “lapses” (by defence minister Manohar Parrikar)

There’s no point in saying the same thing after every crisis that nobody in state or central government learns from previous such fiascos. This is an institutional reality and a cross the Indian people bear with amazing stoicism, because there’s not a hint from anyone in govt that some serious reorganization will be afoot to integrate intelligence services and counter-terror activities of innumerable central and state agencies, and of Operating Procedures standardized across all situations to be followed by every agency so each crisis is not dealt with as sui generis requiring specialized treatment. The NTRO/NATGRID, perhaps, picked up the first clues, NIA passed them on to the state — but whether also to BSF guarding the LoC from Gurdaspur to Pathankot, is not at all clear and, even if it did, nothing in any case was done. Further, there was no centralized counter-terror organization to immediately take over as the command post — the sort of role the Anti-Terrorism Centre mooted by the predecessor Congress party govt was supposed to play, but cannot because it is hollow.

Whence, several mysteries:
(1) The Gurdaspur-Pathankot sector has seen as many as five such terrorist intrusions since 2013, so why has this area been the sector of choice for ingressing into India? If BSF claims some of the photographic sensors were off — have these been off line since the first of these incidents in 2013? If so, why did BSF not immediately repair/replace the sensors? And while BSF is in the line of fire, why hasn’t the DG, BSF, along with the Kashmir head of the force, and the sector commander not been summarily dismissed and charged with criminal negligence?

(2) Superintendent of Police, Gurdaspur, Salwinder Singh — consider this: He stops his official car with the blue VIP light on the roof self-importantly flashing to, what amounts to, giving a lift to the four terrorists (in this team) — surely against all rules and even common sense. He then somehow talks himself out of captivity — sweet talker this!, is dropped off conveniently in the dark even as his travelling companion is knifed and thrown out of the car, while the SP’s cook is let off. Salwinder then promptly informs the higher ups in Punjab Police about the intruding terrorists on the prowl. But his call is disbelieved because of the SP’s “colourful” nature/past/record (not clear which, but his jeweler companion in this night time journey hints at colourful being a synonym for corrupt). The seriously troubling aspects are whether Salwinder, the BSF sector commander, and the rest of that bunch were not Keystone Cops by design, meaning, that perhaps they all were on the payroll of the Pakistani ISI/underworld smuggling drugs and dope into Punjab and the rest of India, which route was occasionally used to funnel in terrorists instead. This needs investigation and harsh follow-up action. Could Salwinder have been posted there by an Akali Dal govt minister reputed to be the “dope king” of Punjab to ease the illegal heroin flow through this part of the border?

(3) Parrikar in Pathankot mentioned that the five Defence Security Corps (DSC) personnel were gunned down because of “bad luck”. As a former DCOAS told me the DSC is manned by “army discards”. Even so, could they be so devoid of the basic soldierly competence to saunter into the terrorists’ gunsights?

(4) And where was the IAF’s Garud Special Force — other than the one person who was killed in the exchange of fire, and how did it perform its duties over the expanse of the air base stretching over 2,000 acres and with a nearly 30-mile long perimeter without any CCTVs mounting a 24/7 watch not just over the aircraft on the tarmac, but the rest of the base as well?

(5) And, finally, for what reasons was the NSG judged by NSA Doval as the potentially more effective force to deal with the heavily armed terrorists than the army units in the vicinity and familiar with the terrain specifics, and definitely having as much competence, if not more, in defusing explosive packages? It is perhaps explosives handling that the DG,Punjab Police was hinting at in his press meet this evening when he talked of why NSG came onto the scene rather abruptly.
What should be India’s “befitting” reply:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has risked barbs and further political diminution on the national stage for the sake of keeping the dialogue channel open to Pakistan, rather than do the easy thing and suspend something that has not even got underway. India desperately needs to shield bilateral relations with Pakistan from the attempts of the deep state in Pakistan — the Pakistan Army and its singular mischief arm, ISI, to enable the forging of strong trade and commercial ties with that country as a means of nursing a Pakistani economic stake that, along with the civil society in Pakistan could, in time, become a counterweight to the army in Pakistan. But that day’s a long way off yet.

So, what’s the best befitting reply to be? As I have been saying over 30 years — it is kutayuddha or covert and asymmetric warfare. If GHQ-Rawalpindi finds dividend in launching the Azhar Masoods and Hafiz Sayeeds and their groups across the border, why has Delhi stayed its hand these many years of responding to 26/11 type of excesses and Pathankot-type armed intrusions by bumping off these terrorist figureheads rather than trying to capture them and indulging in related antics? Precision kills by clandestine agents and means are not all that difficult to execute. But to order such actions requires a strong will and that has been the black hole, turning India into a terrorist punching bag. It is such befitting response that, alas, will not be forthcoming.

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