Pathankot Ter­ror Strike – Pat­tern Re­mains the Same

We fail to recog­nise and ac­knowl­edge that there are no non-state ac­tors in Pak­istan – each and ev­ery one of them is linked to the ISI. The re­cent Modi-Nawaz bon­homie at La­hore also gave some wrong no­tion that Pak­istani mil­i­tary and polity are on the same

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt General P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

We fail to recog­nise and ac­knowl­edge that there are no non-state ac­tors in Pak­istan – each and ev­ery one of them is linked to the ISI.

THE DE­FENCE MIN­IS­TER MANOHAR Par­rikar’s state­ments “only one sol­dier was killed in ac­tual op­er­a­tions”, “strate­gic as­sets are safe” and “op­er­a­tion was only for 36 hours with bal­ance for comb­ing” are no con­so­la­tion to the na­tion. The ease with which the ter­ror­ists crossed the in­ter­na­tional bor­der (IB), en­tered Pathankot In­dian Air Force (IAF) base and in­flicted more ca­su­al­ties than their num­bers and the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact speaks for it­self. Since the op­er­a­tion was more or less left to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Guards (NSG), one won­ders why Par­rikar trav­elled to Pathankot es­corted by the In­dian Army and IAF Chiefs when NSG is not un­der him and when he em­pha­sised last word of clo­sure of op­er­a­tion re­mains with NSG.

The op­er­a­tion stretched be­yond four days with six ter­ror­ists killed, own ca­su­al­ties seven to nine (some suc­cumb­ing in hospital) in­clud­ing five from the De­fence Se­cu­rity Corps (DSC) who were not equipped with night vision, or walkie-talkie ra­dios and mod­ern as­sault ri­fles. Al­most 20 per­son­nel on our side were also re­ported in­jured. The bomb dis­posal squad suf­fered one ca­su­alty and four in­jured ig­nor­ing lessons from the Lib­er­a­tion Tigers of Tamil Ee­lam (LTTE) and Maoists booby-trap­ping their dead. An IAF base was cho­sen as the tar­get be­cause of its ex­panse, and part of the pe­riph­ery se­cured only through pa­trolling makes ac­cess easy. Once inside, ter­ror­ists can lie doggo in un­der­brush or move from cover to cover re­tain­ing the ini­tia­tive of fir­ing at any move­ment. Be­sides, air­craft are lu­cra­tive tro­phies which can be tar­geted by small arms and the rocket-pro­pelled grenades (RPGs) en­hanc­ing the ter­ror and panic value. The Pathankot strike was planned in the same man­ner as the 26/11 Mum­bai ter­ror strike by the Pak­istani In­ter-Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence (ISI), with for­mer lot trained by Pak­istani Marines and this time by the Spe­cial Ser­vices Group (SSG).

Ter­ror­ists were in reg­u­lar touch with their Pak­istani han­dlers, who even ar­ranged a taxi this side of the IB by call­ing from a Pak­istani num­ber. The Pathankot ter­ror mod­ule was in touch with their han­dlers in Ba­hawalpur in Pak­istan, head­quar­ters of the Jaish-e-Mo­hammed (JeM). The taxi was aban­doned due to an ac­ci­dent and ter­ror­ists then hi­jacked the of­fi­cial car in which Sal­winder Singh, the Su­per­in­ten­dent of Police (SP) Gur­daspur, was trav­el­ling along with a friend and a cook (as de­scribed by Sal­winder), for on­ward jour­ney, ter­ror­ists tak­ing with them only the jew­eller hostage, who too was dumped with his throat slit. Sal­winder’s state­ment is found fishy even by the Di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tion Agency (NIA). Why was he out on the sen­si­tive night of Jan­uary 1 in his of­fi­cial car with­out his per­sonal SPO, with­out his per­sonal weapon, ve­hi­cle’s blue light non-func­tional, es­corted by his cook and a jew­eller friend? Why did ter­ror­ists not take Sal­winder hostage in­stead of the jew­eller? There is spec­u­la­tion Sal­winder trav­elled to Mazar to link up with ter­ror­ists, pos­si­bly help­ing them cross two check­points.

NIA’s fi­nal find­ings will take time but the fact is that Pun­jab is flooded with nar­cotics from Pak­istan in the past few years with in­sti­tu­tion­alised con­duits on our side that ob­vi­ously have po­lit­i­cal and police back­ing. The ex­cuse be­ing given that the night vision with the Bor­der Se­cu­rity Force (BSF) in Bamiyal area was faulty fools no one. This was ob­vi­ously by de­sign and known to Pak­istani Rangers. Sig­nif­i­cantly, the same in­fil­tra­tion route was also used dur­ing the re­cent Gur­daspur ter­ror at­tack. Reg­u­lar smug­gling routes are also ter­ror­ist in­fil­tra­tion routes as­sisted from our side since crores of ru­pees are in­volved in nar­cotics. The ease with which a ve­hi­cle was ar­ranged from the In­dian side us­ing a Pak­istani tele­phone in­di­cates the nexus.

We fail to ac­knowl­edge there are no non­state ac­tors in Pak­istan – each and ev­ery one of them is linked to the ISI. The re­cent Naren­dra Modi-Nawaz Sharif bon­homie at La­hore also gave some wrong no­tion that Pak­istani mil­i­tary and polity are on the same page – they are not. Nawaz Sharif ’s own ex­cuse in 1999 that he was not aware of the Kargil in­tru­sions can hardly be be­lieved – if he actu- ally did not know then he was un­fit for the post of Prime Min­is­ter. His brother, Shah­baz Sharif as Chief Min­is­ter of Pun­jab, has lately been dol­ing out money to ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions. The re­cruit­ing base for both the mil­i­tary and ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions in Pak­istan are com­mon and many sec­tions of the Pak­istani ad­min­is­tra­tion are aligned with ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, many politi­cians also hav­ing won elec­tions with ter­ror­ist sup­port. Pak­istani mil­i­tary’s stran­gle­hold on Pak­istan is tight­en­ing. Its cor­po­rate-pri­vate busi­ness stood at $20.7 bil­lion in 2007, and it de­fines the for­eign and de­fence poli­cies of Pak­istan.

In or­der to re­tain the power and money, the Pak­istani Army must re­main in con­fronta­tion with In­dia and Afghanistan. The mil­i­tary is get­ting more and more rad­i­calised, some even call­ing them­selves ‘Al­lah’s Army’ in pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion rather than Pak­istani Army. Steeped in teach­ings of Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Mushar­raf, there is lit­tle chance of change – re­mem­ber Mushar­raf say­ing: “Even if the Kash­mir is­sue is re­solved, ji­had against In­dia will con­tinue”. That is why you find lit­tle progress in pun­ish­ing the 26/11 per­pe­tra­tors, Zaki-urRehman Lakhvi get­ting royal treat­ment, Hafiz Saeed act­ing chief ad­vi­sor to ISI and ob­served in ar­eas across the line of con­trol (LoC), and Sar­taj Aziz mak­ing pub­lic state­ment that “Pak­istan should not en­gage in war with those ter­ror­ist whose tar­get is not at­tack­ing Pak­istan.”

The hi­er­ar­chi­cal re­sponse by In­dia re­mains pa­thetic. Dur­ing the IC-184 hi­jack the NSG was not moved to Am­rit­sar for lack of an air­craft and psy­chol­o­gist be­ing un­avail­able. The hi­er­ar­chy was bliss­fully un­aware that one Spe­cial Group of the SFF too is trained in anti-hi­jack and have their own air­craft avail­able. Dur­ing the 26/11, the then Home Min­is­ter was per­son­ally an­nounc­ing how many NSG per­son­nel are be­ing dis­patched, when would they leave Delhi and when would they reach Mum­bai, the DG NSG (IPS of­fi­cer) di­rect­ing he wants the ter­ror­ists alive as if it was rou­tine law and or­der situation.

In the in­stant case of the Pathankot raid, de­spite ad­vance warn­ing of one com­plete day, 160 NSG per­son­nel were dis­patched to deal with the situation in an IAF base that cov­ers scores of square kms, lit­tle re­al­is­ing NSG is meant for point ac­tion of spe­cific na­ture not area sani­ti­sa­tion. So, the perime­ter of the IAF was not se­cured per­mit­ting easy en­try to ter­ror­ists. Ob­vi­ously, there is no un­der­stand­ing of us­ing spe­cial­ist troops. The de­lib­er­ate ig­nor­ing of the bet­ter trained army was ob­served dur­ing the Gur­daspur at­tack was re­peated in Pathankot with ob­vi­ous re­sults. The Army Spe­cial Forces were closer than the NSG but police one­up­man­ship ruled the roost. The hi­er­ar­chy again wanted the hard­core ter­ror­ists alive not ap­pre­ci­at­ing they are fir­ing au­to­matic weapons and cap­ture of in­jured ter­ror­ists like Ak­mal Kasab is bonus. The irony in In­dia is that the Congress Party which is cry­ing blue mur­der faired equally badly, if not more.

Iron­i­cally, both the US and China con­tinue to sup­port the Pak­istani mil­i­tary in their own na­tional in­ter­ests de­spite all the gen­er­a­tion of ter­ror­ism by that coun­try. The United States that forced Pak­istan to join the Global War on Ter­ror­ism (GWOT) un­der the threat of “bomb­ing it into stone age” can eas­ily put enough pres­sure on Pak­istan to end her proxy wars on In­dia and Afghanistan, but does not do so. Even in the in­stant case of the Pathankot strike, where there is clear ev­i­dence of Pak­istani han­dlers, US has made the rou­tine per­func­tory state­ment in­clud­ing that all coun­tries in the re­gion should co­op­er­ate in curb­ing ter­ror. China is hand in glove with Pak­istan even at the sub­con­ven­tional level against In­dia. Not with­out rea­son Ash­ley Tel­lis of the Carnegie Foun­da­tion says, “In­dia be­ing sub­jected to ter­ror­ism suits many…In­dia is a sponge that ab­sorbs ter­ror.”

With si­mul­ta­ne­ous tar­get­ing of the In­dian Con­sulate at Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan in con­junc­tion the Pathankot ter­ror­ist strike, the mes­sage from the Pak­istani mil­i­tary is crystal clear; you can carry on with In­dia-Pak­istan di­a­logue but we will con­tinue wag­ing proxy war on you while our for­eign of­fice con­tin­ues say­ing we con­demn ter­ror­ism and Pak­istan is also vic­tim of ter­ror­ism. It does not mat­ter that the frus­tra­tion of the Pak­istani Army never hav­ing won a sin­gle war is part of the mo­ti­va­tion. The fact is that ter­ror­ism is the cheap­est op­tion to keep In­dia on the boil and keep its se­cu­rity forces stretched. This is not a new nar­ra­tive but has been on for past three decades plus.

What In­dia has failed to ac­knowl­edge is that sub­con­ven­tional war is the name of the game and ir­reg­u­lar forces have emerged with greater strate­gic value over con­ven­tional and even nu­clear forces, and re­liance purely on con­ven­tional force and diplo­macy is grossly in­ad­e­quate. In­dia has to fight ter­ror­ism on its own. At best In­dia may get in­tel­li­gence but that too only if it suits the na­tional in­ter­est of the provider coun­try. We have failed to learn lessons from ter­ror strikes in the past decades in­clud­ing at mil­i­tary camps at Kaluchak, Tanda and the like. Our in­ward-look­ing pol­icy has cost us much more dearly. We need to speed­ily build cred­i­ble de­ter­rence to counter Pak­istan’s proxy war get­ting the han­dle on Pak­istan’s fault lines.

Pak­istani mil­i­tary’s stran­gle­hold on Pak­istan is tight­en­ing. Its cor­po­rate-pri­vate busi­ness stood at $20.7 bil­lion in 2007, and it de­fines the for­eign and de­fence poli­cies of Pak­istan. In or­der to re­tain the power and money, the Pak­istani Army must re­main in con­fronta­tion with In­dia and Afghanistan.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION: VIMLESH KU­MAR YA­DAV

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