5 January 2016

Questions being asked over response to Pathankot attack valid

Harinder Baweja, Hindustan Times, New Delhi | , Updated: Jan 03, 2016

Questions are being raised over India’s response to the attack on the air base in Pathankot and many of them are valid. Just how could extremists breach the high walls of the highly-protected base when concrete intelligence was available hours in advance is only one such question.
The first credible report came from within the security establishment; from the superintendent of police whose car was hijacked by the militants. He quickly informed the control room and his seniors that at least five terrorists were on the loose.

Close to the Pakistan border, Pathankot is an important area where many defence establishments are based. An entire army division is headquartered there, as is the IAF base that came under attack.
The security establishment responded quickly, sending elite National Security Guard commandos to Punjab. All defence establishments based around the area were alerted and quick-reaction teams readied.
Yet, despite the high alerts, the terrorists managed to engage the security establishment comprising the air force, army and NSG for around 48 hours. Home minister Rajnath Singh first tweeting that all five terrorists were killed and subsequently deleting it is evidence of just how botched up the response was.

“There was confusion on the ground and a clear lack of command and control. Too many cooks spoil the broth,” a senior officer involved with the operation told HT. Confusion clearly prevailed on the ground in Pathankot with elite forces unaware that they hadn’t neutralised all terrorists in the air base.
And just how did the terrorists cross over? What if the SP’s car hadn’t been hijacked? Before the SP was stopped, the terrorists had already managed to sneak across the international boundary (IB) and kill the driver of an Innova car.
That India has learnt few lessons despite repeated attacks -- including the 2008 Mumbai strike – is evident from the fact that the Pathankot attackers crossed the border from virtually the same place as those who were responsible for last year’s attack in Gurdaspur. The Border Security Force said it deployed additional troops in this area after the July attack but the hard fact is the Pathankot terrorists came in undetected. 

Can India afford such breaches when it is clear that Pakistan will continue to use non-state actors as prized assets? The BSF is already feeling the heat but another inquiry is not enough. Heads must roll for a clear message to go out.

The Indian security establishment believes – based on phone calls made by the terrorists to Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab – that the Jaish-e-Mohammad was behind the strike and will no doubt take it up when the foreign secretaries meet in Pakistan later this month. But it must ponder on its own mistakes and secure loopholes.

The terrorists made a cardinal mistake of using the SP’s phone to make calls to Pakistan. Next time, the terrorists may not give so much advance time, nor make such errors. It is not enough to say the technical area of the base wasn’t breached. Not when we have a body count higher than the terrorists who sneaked in.

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