It is difficult to comprehend that one of India’s most important forward area Air Force stations, hosting several squadrons of battle-ready aircraft, can be easily violated and attacked by only about half a dozen terrorists loaded heavily with arms and ammunitions killing a number of airmen, army, and paramilitary staff and keeping the normal operations of the vital defence establishment paralysed for days. This happened at Pathankot in Punjab, earlier this week. The Pathankot air force station is close to the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan, a regular source of armed intrusion by well-trained Jihadi terrorists into the Indian states for years.
The news coverage of the biggest ever terrorist attack on an Indian defence base, based almost entirely on official feed, lacked clarity and failed to emphasise a common sense query: how could such heavily armed terrorists so easily break the military airport’s security cordon to conduct such a massive attack on defence personnel for days? Are India’s so-called high-security defence establishments in the hands of a bunch of less alert and intelligent security men? How could a serving Superintendent of Police, though in his civilian clothes, surrender his blue-beaconed official vehicle to the terrorists to secure their “sympathy” to walk free? Were the terrorists helped by their “local moles” to enter the Air Force station to launch the attack?
The Pathankot air base attack by a handful of terrorists carries a cheap similarity to some Bollywood movies or old Hollywood war films often projecting Adolf Hitler-Benito Mussolini led Axis forces more like a bunch of fools. Surprisingly, the Indian government and its Defence spokespersons kept on harping that “military assets” at the Pathankot air base were safe. This was probably to say that key war equipment, including aircraft, were not damaged by terrorists’ bombs, bullets, and missiles. A senior bureaucrat in the Home Ministry, appearing before the media, in Delhi on the first day read out from a bunch of papers, haltingly giving piecemeal details about who from which category of defence wings got killed and martyred under terrorist gunfires. Knowing hopefully well that the terrorists could also be suicide bombers, one lieutenant colonel went to a killed terrorist to search his body only to die in his strapped body-bomb explosion. The incident was later termed as an “accidental death.” Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the Lt. Col. was booby-trapped.
The “martyrs” were mourned without much emotion. They would probably be awarded various posthumous “Chakras” for delivery at the coming Republic Day event in Delhi before being forgotten by all in keeping with how it has been in the past. The Pathankot terror would soon be forgotten, having little impact on the way India addresses its security concerns. For an easy-going country like India, nothing much seemed to have changed since 1962 Indo-China war when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) captured and lifted some 10,000 Indian prisoners of war (POWs) into China, across the McMahon line in the northeast.
Terrorist attacks on the country, mostly originated from Pakistan through various anti-India and Jehadist groups, are nothing new. They spared nothing – from public places, police posts, state Legislative Assembly and Parliament to temples. On October 1, 2001, they attacked Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and 38 people were killed. However, nothing to beat the terrorist attack on India’s very democratic citadel, Parliament, within less than three months on December 13, 2001, when the session was going on, in which nine persons, security men and civilians, died. Most of the devilish terror attacks in India have taken place since 2001.
In the previous decade, the first major serious blasts to be conducted by terrorists anywhere in the world was in Mumbai. It was on March 12, 1993, in which 257 people were killed and 713 were injured. Among the major terrorist attacks on Indian soil in the current century are: Mumbai serial blasts in November, 26, 2008, killing 166 people and injuring 293; attack on Ahmedabad-based Akshardham temple on September 24, 2002, killing31 and injuring 80; Delhi serial blasts on October 29, 2005, killing 63 and injuring 210 people; attacks on peak-hour local trains on July 11, 2006, killing 210 and injuring 715 people; serial bomb blasts in Jaipur on May 13, 2008; killing 63 and injuring 210 people; and Assam bombings a few months later on October 30, 2008, killing 81 and injuring 470 people. Terrorists attacked almost every parts of the country, including those in Hyderabad, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. On February 14, 1998, Coimbatore witnessed the biggest bombings incident, killing 60 and injuring 200 people.
However, this is for the first time that a small group of highly trained terrorists -- also from Pakistan as initial official investigations suggest – managed to enter an Air Force station having squadrons of fighter aircraft among others, and got the forces engaged in shelling India’s military and para-military personnel for almost four days. The incident belies the confidence of the people of India that the country’s military services are always battle ready to protect its people against foreign attacks. The findings of investigations by NIA and other agencies can hardly restore the confidence on the government’s national security assurances. Such a terrorist adventure into an Air Force station could not have taken place without some local support. That is the biggest worry.