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
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.