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Pathankot Attack Analysis Essay

New Delhi: Even as the government refuses to admit any lapse on the part of security and intelligence agencies in the terror attack at Punjab’s Pathankot airbase, doubts have surfaced over how fool-proof India's intelligence-security ecosystem really is. Defence experts and former top servicemen feel the attack is the result of a failure of the “entire system’’. According to latest reports, seven Indian security personnel had died in the attack and there’s still no clarity on whether more terrorists are holed up at the base.

Questions are many: How can a pinpointed intelligence input – if any – be ignored? Why was the perimeter of the Pathankot airbase not secured despite warnings? Why was the first information of the armed infiltration, given by a Punjab Police officer who was abducted by the terrorists, disregarded? How was another infiltration allowed to take place along the very same nullah which served as conduit for a recent previous attack? What was the Border Security Force's role? Where are the surveillance equipment and night vision devices? Why was the National Security Guard (NSG) sent in when the Army has a crack Special Forces unit nearby at Nahan? Why was Delhi trying to micromanage when it clearly lacks the competence?

SWAT team during an encounter between security forces and terrorists at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot on Saturday. PTI

“India has not learnt any lesson from previous operations carried out by Pakistan against us. We shout for two days and then it is business as usual. It is a shame,” Major General (retired) Satbir Singh told Firstpost.

How can this operation, he asked, be called 'professional' when terrorists managed to advance 25 km inside the area where we have vital air assets, kill seven and seriously injure 20 in 36 hours?

“It means our intelligence agencies are not working at all. There is no co-ordination. There is no actionable intelligence,” he alleged.

When reminded that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had given prior inputs, he replied, “The responsibility of the IB does not stop after merely issuing alerts. Its responsibility is to ensure that actionable intelligence goes is acted upon. And mind you, I am not isolating military when I said it was the failure of all intelligence and executing agencies. The entire system has failed.”

The Army veteran refused to accept that the assault was a terror attack. He said it is a military operation by Pakistan.

“The nation has been defeated by terrorists of Pakistan. So, they are not terrorists. It is a military operation against us by the ISI and the Pakistan Army. The government has permitted the terrorists to enter our territory and kill so many people,” he said.

On whether there is a visible trend in the recent attacks in Punjab, he added, “Pakistani terrorists are shifting their target from the Valley to Punjab as they are finding it (the state) an easier target. They are finding laxity, lack of coordination, seriousness and ineffectiveness of local commanders.”

According to him, a standard operating procedure should immediately be installed so that whenever such an attack takes place, the local command of all operations and forces in the sector is automatically assumed by the senior-most military officer.

"This operation should have come under the local Army GOC instead of New Delhi," he said.

Air Vice Marshal (retired) Kapil Kak also shared the same opinion. “The government had specific inputs 24 hours in advance that Punjab is going to be struck. Why was security of vital installations was not beefed up? The government did not coordinate well enough to prevent terrorists from getting inside the airbase. It takes only six hours to deploy a battalion around the perimeter. Had they been deployed in time, the terrorists would have never dared to climb the wall and cross the concertina wire and get inside. Seven lives could have been saved,” he said.

The police, he said, had 24 hours after the terrorists killed taxi driver Ikagar Singh on Friday and injured Rajesh Verma, the friend of Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh, early in the morning on 1 January. Between 11:30 am and 1 pm, the terrorists spoke to their handlers. From 1 pm to 3 am next morning, they were around Punjab for full 15 hours in Army fatigues.

“Where were the police? They knew the last position. So, the police and decision-making at the highest level were below par because they had all the time and forces at their disposal to protect the airbase. There could have been a three-layer security. This is disaster at a strategic level,” he further added.

He questioned National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s move of sending the National Security Guard at Pathankot.

“Why are you fiddling around with the NSG? There is a brigade in Pathankot. Why were its battalions not used?” he asked, adding “it is not the duty of Air Force to protect it from outside. Their job is to see if the place is secure, the aircraft are serviceable, and can fly when required and to ensure infrastructure inside. They provide security only inside the airbase and for this purpose, they rely on retired Army jawans who constitute what they call Defence Security Corps (DSC) – which are not a counter terror force. They are like chowkidars (watchman) in uniform. They are not trained take on intruders and therefore, five of them were killed”.

Referring to Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehershi’s statements where he kept repeating that the IAF lost seven men, he said: “The fact is the IAF and the NSG lost one officer each. Four DSC guards were apparently gunned down and one DSC jawan was killed after he killed a terrorist. A man who doesn’t even know the line-up of our own forces is quite clearly not up to the job,” he added.

Adding that attacks after attacks are a worrisome trend, he added: “We will have to now watch Jaish in the frontline. It is getting more and more active in Kashmir taking a leaf out of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen's book.

“The attack in Kupwara sector was also their handiwork. They targeted military camp there and now the airbase here. Gurdaspur attack, too, was carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammad.”

Kak strongly disagreed with Major Gen. Singh who said the Pakistan Army and the ISI are involved in the attack.

“The Pakistan Army or the ISI do not have a hand in this incident. Though it goes against the grains of public opinion in India, I say it very openly and with firmness. I don’t say it in psychological or instinctive terms but as an analysis,” he said.

"The attack", said the Air Vice Marshal, "is is not a result of planning but a threat. Pakistan-based Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) carried out a similar attack on PN Naval Base in Mehran in 2011 and subsequently on Kamra airbase in 2012. Fortunately, Jaish failed to inflict such damage on us because of some apparent coordination problems.

Ashok K Behuria, research fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, feels the terror attack is aimed at unsettling the dialogue process.

“I would say that this was pretty much expected. One should not be surprised. What surprises me is the lack of preparedness on our part. I would have expected our authorities to be little more prepared for this kind of act. This spoiler act was very much on. In fact, the script had been written when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed Lahore,” he added.

“There is a very powerful constituency in the Pakistani military which does not want better relationship with India and it has become an existential charter of the Pakistan Army. The army is not happy with the efforts of civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif to engage in talks with India and that is quite evident. If you look at the trend right from November 2008 till date, each time civilian government in Pakistan had taken a step forward  it had been followed by a terror attack.

"To claim that the LeT, Jaish. HuJI or any other terror outfit are acting on their own is ridiculous because it is a deliberate attempt by the Pakistan military to scotch the talks. No second thoughts,” added Behuria, who is an expert on Pakistan's politics, India-Pakistan relations vis-a-vis Kashmir and the sectarian diversity in Pakistan.

"Pakistan is trying," he said, "to take this war to different theatre because they know that Indian Army is better prepared in the valley.

“I imagine it that they are doing it with twin purposes – it is a weaker area from a security point of view and it is easier to infiltrate. Second, there is parallel effort to resurrect Punjabi militancy. The Sikh community is being wooed by the Pakistani intelligence agencies. the Pathankot attack is an effort to kill three birds with one stone – demonstrate the weakness of the Indian military; hold the talks; revive or encourage the Sikh militancy in the state to gain grounds.

Prof Ajay Darshan Behera, coordinator for Pakistan Studies at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia university, raised questions on the ill-informed operation by the security forces. “Yesterday, there was news that all terrorists have been neutralised but today, the operation is still on. I think there is something terrible in the way they have handled the entire operation as well as disseminating information to the media.

Why has so much information being given out about the operation when you do not know what actually happened? It is a very sensitive case because the government is trying to move ahead with talks and simultaneously trying to contain a terrorist attack,” he said.

There are information that infiltrators are entering the country through the routes taken by smugglers to cross the international border.

“I strongly feel the attacks are planned and through and through. They wanted to inflict a major damage like blowing up a plane etc., and therefore had chose Pathankot (which is considered India’s first line of defence against Pakistan),” he said.

Behera doesn't think the attacks are an attempt to revive insurgency in Punjab.

“Any insurgency is very difficult to be revived until there is a cause. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to revive any movement in Punjab. Kashmir keeps on burning because there is some resistance but in Punjab you do not have that kind of situation. Pakistan cannot really build a movement in Punjab,” he concluded.


Published Date: Jan 04, 2016 17:37 PM | Updated Date: Jan 04, 2016 17:37 PM

Tags :#Ajit Doval#ConnectTheDots#IB#Intelligence Bureau#Lashkar-E-Taiba#LeT#Pakistan#Pathankot#Punjab#TTP

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After 26/11 Mumbai attacks, this time terrorists targeted the security installation. The attack at the Pathankot Air Force Station, located close to the Pakistan border, began early Saturday. By the evening four terrorists were killed & operations was declared successful by government, but, on next day an NSG official was killed along with five other injured while inspecting a terrorist’s body after some time again firing started from two different locations, security forces realize more terrorists are alive & by evening they were also killed. The whole incident killed seven security forces personnel with 20 injured.

After every terrorist attack, there are shallow attempts by the establishment to fit episodic responses into academic frameworks and proposals for security establishment reforms, but in no time things go back to default mode, until the next terrorist attack.

Issues surfaced in security operation:

This time the intelligence information regarding such incident may happen was available, a foreign intelligence agency had passed on a tip-off about terrorists planning to attack the base. Then why that intelligence was not treated seriously?  Is the response a reflection of the poor quality of general intelligence alerts? Do agencies not able to discriminate between a genuine & fake intelligence. On January 1, early morning, the abducted Superintendent of Police, Salwinder Singh, reported to the local police that his vehicle had been snatched. Despite several hours available to intercept the terrorists in a limited space, New Delhi, in its wisdom, decided to waste time by flying in National Security Guard (NSG) commandos from the national capital, while thousands of trained army soldiers were already stationed all over Pathankot which have been more familiar with the terrain? Does it reflect the poor decision making of senior members of the security establishment or does it hint at autocratic decision-making in New Delhi without professional participation?

This incident happened just after the Indian Prime Minister retuned from Lahore & discussed to initiate the peace talk. Both countries agreed to delay the talks without canceling them. The challenge thrown up by the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air force base is to evolve India’s national security doctrine to include its response to non-state actors while carrying on diplomatic engagement with Pakistan.

Another question is who should be held accountable for the casualities & injuries of civilians, Police as was the case of 26/11 & even armed forces in this case. Those who were supposed to act on the terror alerts, those who were supposed to guard the seas and those who were supposed to protect Mumbai, all carried on with their professional lives. There is a need to frame a better accountability system.

What should be India’s Security Architecture?

•   Pathankot has shred to pieces by the cycle of terror responses in India: from processing intelligence alerts, mobilizing first responders, carrying out counter terror operations under a well-defined command-and-control system, minimizing casualties and, finally, obtaining maximum intelligence to thwart possible future attacks.

•   It is time to finally accept the reality and move forward on a broad sweep of reforms in the security establishment. This could be done at three levels — parliamentary oversight, a well-defined national security doctrine and a national security strategy to implement the doctrine, and, finally, an independent federal commission of accountability on security matters.

•   India still has no written national security doctrine, and whatever is practiced as the doctrine, and strategy, is vastly inadequate. It is time to move on from the unwritten grand strategy of working only towards the political unity and preservation of India to a written doctrine that defines India’s role in the world and its commitment to protecting the life, liberty and interests of its people. The doctrine should be accompanied by a security strategy that should spell out the state response to various kinds of security challenges. If it is a terrorist strike, then the decision-makers must know the responses expected of them, and not try to improvise based on their limited awareness. Command and control for such operations should also be spelt out in the document. To frame it political consensus must be evolved, in a publicly transparent manner, to reflect the complex challenge facing the country. 

•   Political misuse of state organs and the complete lack of transparency in their operations have resulted in Indian intelligence agencies emerging as obscure centers obfuscating facts or exaggerating things, mostly to impress political masters or for other vested interests. The lack of accountability has also meant that field operations of intelligence agencies are mostly cottage industries run on fake sources or exaggerated claims. Underlying all of it is the significant financial benefits. 

•   The final result is that even when genuine intelligence alerts are available, they are not acted upon with seriousness. India must constitute a very credible, and permanent, federal commission of accountability on security matters. This is important not just to bring in accountability to the security establishment, but also to ensure that the many insurgencies and terrorist challenges do not result in the intelligence and security apparatus getting a free hand to misuse their powers. Such a commission can also be a watchdog in places like Kashmir and the Northeast, where repeated allegations of human rights violations are haunting political efforts to find peace, and feeding terrorism. It is time to finally show that India can be more than a functional anarchy.