The Many Questions That Pathankot Raises
Security in position outside the Pathankot AirForce base (ANI)
NEW DELHI: It is a story out of a bad thriller. In that the script raises several questions with the answers still defying those entrusted with the nation’s security. At least 7 Indian defence and security personnel have died in the terror attack on the Pathankot Air Force base, the last being Lt Colonel Niranjan from the Bomb Disposal Squad of the National Security Guards, India’s elite commando force.
This despite advance intelligence information and action by New Delhi in what still emerged as a botched operation exposing serious chinks in India’s security armour that are disturbing, to say the least. The NSG men had been moved in by 8pm and the terror attack followed seven hours later in what should then have been ample time to secure the base. Besides, if latest reports are true then the Air base is still not secure with at least two terrorists still in position.
There are far more questions than answers at this stage, that might not ever be answered by the government, just as these have been ignored by previous government. The Citizen after speaking with security experts traces the sequence of events, and raises the questions that arise at every level pf the attack on the Air Force base:
1.The Intelligence Bureau reportedly intercepted conversations pointing towards the planned attack on the Punjab military base. One of the terrorists even spoke to his mother , reportedly in Pakistan, saying he was on his way to martyrdom upon which she started crying.
Qa: Why was the IB unable to determine the location of the terrorists if it had indeed got detailed intercepts of the conversations?
Qb: Conversely, if it had the information of the terrorists locale why was no action taken to apprehend them?
2. On the basis of these intercepts National Security Advisor Ajit Doval rushed in 120 plus commandos of the National Security Guards to the Pathankot Air Base. Special Forces of the Indian Army and two infantry columns of the Army were also deployed at the base. Control for the operation was taken over by the NSG from the Indian Air Force. Despite this the warning, and the preparation, they seemed to be caught by surprise as the terrorists not only entered the base, but killed at least seven security personnel. Till the time of writing it is not clear whether there were just four terrorists as speculated, or more.
Qa: What were the preparations made at the Air Base to foil the terror attack after the NSG commandos arrived there?
Qb; How was it that the terrorists still managed to enter the highly fortified base, in a compound surrounded by an 11 feet wall with comparative ease? This despite the high alert and reports that the base was expecting the attack, and was hence in a state of high preparedness for it?
3. Just after the arrival of the NSG guards, Punjab police went into the market areas near the base asking the shopkeepers to close down early as some trouble was expected. Later at night a strange incident was reported. Superintendent of Police, Jalandhar Salwinder Singh,a jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and their cook Madan Lal were returning from Narot Mehra and were abducted by five youths. They were thrashed and dumped on the outskirts of Tajpur village. The SP in his report claimed that he had convinced the men that he was not a person of any consequence and hence his life was spared. He is currently being questioned. Reports in the local media differ with this version, maintaining that the youth had taken away the VIP car with a blue beacon light, and were actually the terrorists who had used this vehicle to enter the air base.
4. The SP and his friends are being questioned. The cook, according to some news reports has disappeared. Initially a PTI report quoting officials said that the body of an unidentified man had been found near the car that was found later. Clearly there seems to be a link between the abduction and the terror attack but precise and factual details about this have still to surface.
Qa. Were there any local handlers for the terrorists in Punjab?
Qb. Is there any evidence of wider local support for militancy, given the fact that two incidents have taken place in Punjab in fairly quick succession?
Qc: Local media reports suggest that the SPs complaint was not taken note of until after the attack. He is being questioned now but how is it that this unusual incident passed the attention of the authorities dealing already with a high alert situation in the area? More so as his car had been stolen in highly suspicious circumstances?
5. The comparisons between this attack and the Gurdaspur incident where terrorists of the Lashkar e Tayaba had attacked a police station, with ten persons including cops being killed in the ensuing battle. The police had been caught completely unawares at the time. The state and central government had decided on a slew of security measures to be implemented along the vulnerable area but clearly little has come of this. More so as Dinapur where the terrorists had targeted the police just six months ago, is just about 20 km away from Pathankot where, reports just in suggest, that firing is still going on with at least two terrorists still in position.
Qa. What were the security measures, if any, taken and put in place?
Qb. Is it not true that basic security standard procedures have not been observed?
Qc. NSG was handicapped by a paucity of equipment. Does that remain the case?
Qd. Is there a problem with the training procedures as this particular incident where the NSG was in direct charge, seems to suggest?