Intel input was taken lightly
The terror attack at the Pathankot Air Force base is the second terror strike in Punjab within a span of six months. Instead of sanctioning separate or additional force for Punjab, the strength of the Border Security Force (BSF) has been considerably diverted from Punjab to other areas. In Punjab, terrorism ended in the late 1990s. Evidence points at a scary fact — that Pakistan, or its henchmen or Pakistani terrorist groups, want to ignite it again.
There is no doubt that the Pathankot incident has exposed our lack of preparedness. The defence ministry claimed that it had received intelligence inputs about the attack. Yet the full information was not passed on or it was treated like some vague information about a “possible attack”. Or, possibly, the truth has been doctored or not fully shared with the people.
There is a tendency of information flowing upwards, rather than vertically or horizontally in our security forces. It’s a well-known fact that the coordination meetings between top officials of the paramilitary forces, including Central Reserve Police Force and the BSF, do not take place regularly.
Undoubtedly, the Pathankot incident could have been handled better. It seems every defence organisation wants to secure brownie points by claiming that they were the first to get the information. Yet, despite prior input, terrorists were able to make their way into the heavily guarded Pathankot airbase and engage security forces in a prolonged firefight. This is a matter of concern. Terrorists think that they can strike anywhere in India and get away with it.
The Pathankot encounter began around 3 am on January 2, almost 24 hours since the terrorists left the first trail by killing taxi driver Ikagar Singh. It raises questions about India’s ability to secure its defence establishments.
Those who are at the helm of affairs must not take the matter lightly. The gaps in our security grid need to be plugged. After all, this is a war in which all concerned should be involved.
It also appears that the Punjab Police did not trust its own superintendent of police kidnapped by the militants, who reportedly told them that the abductors were wearing Army uniform and had sophisticated assault weapons. The police were looking at the possibility of personal enmity behind the crime. Who should be held responsible for such laxity? No attempt to cover-up the lapses should be tolerated.
The elimination of terrorists should always be the priority of the security forces. The same policy should be extended to their supporters and anti-India elements. Only then can the war against terrorism be won. There is no point in blaming Pakistan. We should be strong enough to prevent such attacks. We must always remember the maxim, “Trust in God but keep your powder dry”.
Joginder Singh is former CBI director and a 1961 batch IPS officer of the Karnataka cadre
Overcritical media is at work
For the coverage of the terror attack on the Indian Air Force base on January 2, reporters of TV channels converged on Pathankot in droves. One could not help but recall and compare coverage of the tragedy that took place in Paris in November 2015. The tragedy was on a much larger scale. On the very first day of the coverage of the Pathankot attack, many of our TV channels started talking about delays, lack of coordination, intelligence failure and botch up. The level of criticism and negative conclusions increased as the operation continued on day three and day four. Reporters in the field freely gave instantaneous assessments of the events which they could not see.
Frenchmen and women, on the other hand, stood united in the hour of crisis. All political groups stood behind the government and a near unanimity marked the stringent measures introduced by the Hollande government. There was no talk of intelligence failures. France was determined not to lower the morale of the security forces while they were engaged in a battle with terrorists. The nation realised that there would be an appropriate time for reviews, analysis, post-mortems and recriminations, if any.
Indian security forces are competent, committed and motivated and they have demonstrated this time and again. They know and understand the meaning of both cooperation and coordination. The specialised forces are in a rigorous and continuous training mode to sharpen their skills, responses and effectiveness. Are laymen and women more capable than them to decide how and when to operate in terror situations?
The airbase in question covers about 40 square miles area of a good-sized town. The terrain is partly wooded with streams and ravines. One of the objectives would have been to capture the terrorists alive. This could be a reason for the sacrifice of Lt. Col. Niranjan Kumar. Containment, isolation, preventing collateral damage and blocking escape routes would have been on the minds of our soldiers. A large number of women and children reside in the family quarters at the base.
Explosions reported to have been heard on January 4-5 from within the base means that improvised explosive devices were placed by the terrorists. There would be many other considerations we cannot know or even think of. It needs to be remembered that Air Force bases have explosive and fuel stores and highly incendiary material. Due to these constraints choice of weaponry and ammunition that was used had to be carefully selected. The objectives of terrorists are to project power, spread panic, divide society and spark overreaction by governments and people. Should we not see through their perverse intentions or should we help the terrorists by reaching instant conclusions and stoking non-existing fears? Must the TRPs of the electronic media be the overriding consideration of all concerned?
Arun Bhagat is former director, Intelligence Bureau