One can almost hear the collective sigh of relief that followed the failure of the recent attempt by Pakistani terrorists to invade the Air Force station at Pathankot. And yet, the one pertinent question that keeps tormenting us repeatedly is: How secure are we really as a tion? There are several reasons for this question to acquire paranoid proportions. There are several loose ends to the mysterious terrorist attack from Pakistan in the wee hours of January 2 on a high-security military establishment that have remained unresolved. And had the small team of four to six terrorists (we still do not have precise information of the number involved) succeeded in their objective, they would have maged to inflict a crippling damage to our air defence. It would have taken us years to get back even to the present level of our military defence.
Perhaps the most important question (among a series of questions that legitimately arise) is: How could a handful of well-armed Pakistani terrorists mage to get even anywhere near the perimeter of such a vital military installation since there was prior information about an intended attack? Despite the tall grass growing around the Air Force station, it should have been possible for low-flying helicopters to locate the invaders and for our snipers to shoot them down. This leads one to the other pertinent question about who had the supreme command of the security aspect of the Air Force station after the intelligence inputs were received. Was there avoidable confusion about who was in supreme command in respect of security at that point of time? Or did some of the ‘gaps’ that Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar spoke of later on arise from the typical Indian practice of having so many commanders that everyone was bound to step on the toes of the others? The Indian Air Force, the Indian Army and the Punjab Police were already involved after the intelligence inputs came in, giving a fairly comfortable time span for military preparedness and a hot reception to the terrorists. Was it then really necessary to involve also the tiol Security Guard (NSG)? One of the first things that the NSG officer did on arrival was to try to take over command from the Army unit. Fortutely, this demand was not met, and command did not go to the hands of an officer who had little knowledge of the layout of the establishment and the local conditions. What the tion does not have is completely reliable information about the number of terrorists actually involved in the operation and whether one (or more) of them could be hiding somewhere within the Air Force station and biding his time for a more suitable time for a solo attack. Apart from a gratuitous number of additiol generals wanting to take command, we have also had unwanted comments from political leaders who have little knowledge of the situation in Pathankot and should, in any case, leave such matters to the Defence Minister and the commander in actual charge. The Fince Minister’s comments and his attempts to make comparisons between 26/11 of Mumbai (where the targets were civilian ones) and Pathankot (with its military targets) were puerile to say the least.
What is being viewed with understandable constertion and suspicion are the actions of Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh and the casual attitude of the Punjab police to the handling of a very serious situation despite the traumatic and mysterious experience of the SP at the hands of the terrorists. According to the SP’s version, his Mahindra SUV was stopped on the night of December 31 by four or five heavily armed terrorists. With the SP in the vehicle were his cook Gopal and his friend Rajesh Verma. Strangely enough, the two gunmen of the SP were not with him and he was not even carrying his official weapon. After the SP’s vehicle was hijacked by the terrorists, they killed the driver by slitting his throat, and threw the SP and his cook out with their hands and legs tied and mouths gagged. They also took away the SP’s mobile phones. However, according to Gopal, the SP was left with one cell phone with which he was able to contact his senior. Gopal and Rajesh were rammed with the rifle butts of the terrorists, but the SP was somehow spared such treatment. The SP’s submission is that the beacon of his car had been switched off (since he was on a private visit), he was in civilian clothes and he was urmed, and that his captors probably thought of him as a “simple man”. However, the hooter of the vehicle somehow went off after the SP and Gopal had been pushed out, and the terrorists wanted to know whose vehicle it was. Verma apparently replied that it belonged to the SP.
The question as to why the SP was travelling so late at night without arms and without his gunmen has partially been answered by the SP by claiming that he had offerings to make at a shrine and he wanted to do this urmed and without gunmen with him. However, it still leaves him with an important question of priorities. Having prior information of the impending attack on the Pathankot Air Force station, should the SP not have assessed his priorities better to put aside his persol wishes so as to deal with an issue of tiol emergency before anything else. Should he also not have put a higher priority on his persol security to be unfailingly available to do his duty in an hour of crisis? In any case, very pertinent questions will continue to be asked on why the terrorist attack could not be warded off swiftly as soon as it was mounted, since the police, the Air Force and the Army had prior information about it. People will also continue to ask why countering an attack by four or five terrorists should have gone on for over two days.