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Pak Terror:TIME FOR STRATEGIC CULTURE By Amrita Banerjee, 15 Jan, 2016 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 15 January 2016

Pak Terror


By Amrita Banerjee

Research Scholar, JNU


Prime Minister Modi’s ambitious project to “turn the course of history” by visiting Lahore to meet his Pakistan counterpoint Nawaz Sharif on Christmas got tested by fire when Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists attacked the Pathankot air base in the new year. Today, predictably, the proposed talks between the Foreign Secretaries of the warring neighbours in Islamabad continue to hang in balance.  

Undoubtedly, the Pathankot was no surprise. This kind of heinous activity has almost become a pattern in the Indo-Pak relationship wherein each past effort at peace has provoked similar strikes. India faced the Kargil offensive post former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Lahore bus yatra in 1999 and the Parliament attack after the failed Agra Summit in 2001.

It is well known that in Islamabad, the shots are called less by the civil Government and more by the Army and Islamic militants. The more complex truth is that while Pakistan’s all- powerful army seeks to avert a military crisis which could drain its energies given its grave internal turmoil, it does not seek normalization.  Its Army Chief General Raheel Sharif has made clear that he will not accept the status quo on Kashmir.

Notably, both the Pathankot strike carried out by the ISI’s old client, Jaish-e-Mohammad and terrorist attack on the Indian Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif (Afghanistan) almost at the same time prove the point that Indo-Pak peace process and India’s engagement in Afghanistan would not be tolerated.

True, ‘Operation Dhangu’ in Pathankot might be over but it has raised serious questions about India’s security preparedness. One, how did six heavily armed men succeeded in entering an airbase protected by high concrete walls, topped with barbed wire?

Two, why were dozens of military personnel stationed at Pathankot not mobilized instead of flying National Security Guard (NSG) commandos from Delhi which resulted in loss of crucial time? Three, why were the Special Forces of the Parachute Regiment (Para SF) ideal for this Operation not used?

Four, why was the reaction to intelligence adhoc? Especially when genuine intelligence alerts were available both from Intelligence Bureau and US agencies? Last, but not least, why did neither the police nor the Defence Security Corps (DSC), tasked with base security, receive specialist counter-fidayeen training? There is no gainsaying these were grave security lapses.

In fact, there were striking similarities between the Pathankot attack and last year’s 27 July 27 strike in neighbouring Gurdaspur district. Both times the terrorists struck in districts close to the Pakistan border and snatched vehicles to execute their plan.

Secondly, just as during the Gurdaspur incident, this time too the terrorists are suspected to have come at least two days prior to the attack. Thirdly, in both the cases police stations and defence installation were attacked. Fourthly, in both operations, the terrorists engaged the security forces for more than 10 hours.

Till date the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and Border Security Force (BSF) have not been able to conclusively conclude the exact number and precise way in which the ultras entered the air base. Raising some worrisome questions. When will India learn from its mistakes? Does the lives of soldiers killed in such operation does not ring bells for New Delhi?

Arguably, if an important defence establishment can be attacked, what possible protection do ordinary citizens have? How should India strengthen itself to avert terrorist attacks in future and when will it stop being a ‘soft State’? Certainly these hard queries require genuine introspection.

Notably, India’s response to the present imbroglio can be three fold. First, Delhi must resist the temptation to call off talks. Derailing the dialogue process would mean giving veto power to the terrorist. Realizing this, there has been a show of foreign policy adeptness on both sides.

Pertinently, Modi called the attackers “enemies of humanity who can’t stand to watch India develop”, thus leaving a window open for the dialogue process. Similarly, Pakistan also wished to “build on the good will created by the high-level contacts between the two countries” and promised to partner India to completely eradicate the terrorism menace. 

Leading to a ray of hope as there are reports that Nawaz Sharif has ordered a joint investigation team (JIT) to look into the leads provided by India on the attack. Already a few Jaish-e-Mohammad militants have been arrested.

Clearly, India through the dialogue process must bring to the table a clear agenda for the actions it expects Pakistan to take on terrorism --- and critically along-with  a roadmap for what it is willing to do in return for those demands being met like demilitarization of Siachen.

New Delhi must also ensure that Islamabad takes legal action against the perpetrators of violence against India, its civilian leadership publicly accepting the stipulation that violence shall not be used to press for a solution of the Kashmir problem and the military infrastructure of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad be dismantled.

Pertinently, India must consider what elements of national power it can marshal to deter Pakistan from continuing to sponsor jihadist groups. Factually, New Delhi has many excellent reasons to avoid crisis-inducing steps, like the use of military force, which would hurt its own economic objectives.

The most important lesson for India is that any terrorist attack on Indian soil irrespective of the casualties is an assault on our national security and should never be taken lightly. Shockingly, the terrorists were minutes away from fighter jets and without the valor of our brave soldiers there could have been a serious casualty.

Undeniably, national security is too serious a matter to leave on God. That it took Indian troops over 18 hours and the loss of at least seven lives to defeat four poorly trained terrorists whose attack plans were known, makes it clear that the lessons of 26/11 have not been learned.

India desperately needs a programme of counter terrorism capacity building, based on the honest admission of weaknesses and a clear roadmap for change. The bungled response to Pathankot underscores the need for a three-pronged revamp: Parliamentary oversight, a well-defined national security doctrine and an independent federal commission of accountability.

Even though individual States are responsible for the maintenance of law and order, such insurgencies are beyond the professional capability of State forces. Thus, it is high time that the Centre-State blame game is stopped and efforts to set up NCTC and the Nat Grid as an overarching edifice of the country’s internal security be institutionalized.

The truth is that terrorism can be defeated not by angry talk but calm action. The Pathankot experience has shown that terror responses cannot be left to the whims and fancies of a lionized few. A recalcitrant neighbour promoting faith based militancy against the country has to be countered on the borders as well as on other planes through a comprehensive strategy that is our own and in sync with India’s strategic culture.

In sum, the Peshawar, Paris, Pathankot link pushes for the need to have more international cooperation on counter-terrorism because we no longer inhibit a world where the argument ‘your-terrorist-is-not-my-terrorist’ holds much weight. India has no option but to exhibit patience and arm herself more strongly in future. As for Pakistan, the entire world has its eyes set on it as this incident will truly test Islamabad’s intentions. ---- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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