Pathankot mysteries and “befitting” reply

Like after every intruding terrorist induced-crisis, in the latest one in Pathankot, that’s perhaps seeing closure now, one discerned a despairing pattern of prior intelligence, wrong cues, and absence of coordination between a multiplicity of agencies — Border Security Force, Punjab Police, National Security Guard, each with their separate field intelligence outfits, and all tasked with dealing with terrorism incidents but each succeeding only in getting in the other’s way. The army with a large presence in the area, meanwhile, was not called in other than as after thought. And, by way of comic relief, there were the familiar interventions prematurely to congratulate “our” brave men tackling the terrorists followed by harrumphing promises of a “befitting reply” (from Home Minister Rajnath Singh and RSS favourite Road & Transport minister Nitin Gadkari) followed by silence and then embarrassed admission of security “lapses” (by defence minister Manohar Parrikar)

There’s no point in saying the same thing after every crisis that nobody in state or central government learns from previous such fiascos. This is an institutional reality and a cross the Indian people bear with amazing stoicism, because there’s not a hint from anyone in govt that some serious reorganization will be afoot to integrate intelligence services and counter-terror activities of innumerable central and state agencies, and of Operating Procedures standardized across all situations to be followed by every agency so each crisis is not dealt with as sui generis requiring specialized treatment. The NTRO/NATGRID, perhaps, picked up the first clues, NIA passed them on to the state — but whether also to BSF guarding the LoC from Gurdaspur to Pathankot, is not at all clear and, even if it did, nothing in any case was done. Further, there was no centralized counter-terror organization to immediately take over as the command post — the sort of role the Anti-Terrorism Centre mooted by the predecessor Congress party govt was supposed to play, but cannot because it is hollow.

Whence, several mysteries:

(1) The Gurdaspur-Pathankot sector has seen as many as five such terrorist intrusions since 2013, so why has this area been the sector of choice for ingressing into India? If BSF claims some of the photographic sensors were off — have these been off line since the first of these incidents in 2013? If so, why did BSF not immediately repair/replace the sensors? And while BSF is in the line of fire, why hasn’t the DG, BSF, along with the Kashmir head of the force, and the sector commander not been summarily dismissed and charged with criminal negligence?

(2) Superintendent of Police, Gurdaspur, Salwinder Singh — consider this: He stops his official car with the blue VIP light on the roof self-importantly flashing to, what amounts to, giving a lift to the four terrorists (in this team) — surely against all rules and even common sense. He then somehow talks himself out of captivity — sweet talker this!, is dropped off conveniently in the dark even as his travelling companion is knifed and thrown out of the car, while the SP’s cook is let off. Salwinder then promptly informs the higher ups in Punjab Police about the intruding terrorists on the prowl. But his call is disbelieved because of the SP’s “colourful” nature/past/record (not clear which, but his jeweler companion in this night time journey hints at colourful being a synonym for corrupt). The seriously troubling aspects are whether Salwinder, the BSF sector commander, and the rest of that bunch were not Keystone Cops by design, meaning, that perhaps they all were on the payroll of the Pakistani ISI/underworld smuggling drugs and dope into Punjab and the rest of India, which route was occasionally used to funnel in terrorists instead. This needs investigation and harsh follow-up action. Could Salwinder have been posted there by an Akali Dal govt minister reputed to be the “dope king” of Punjab to ease the illegal heroin flow through this part of the border?

(3) Parrikar in Pathankot mentioned that the five Defence Security Corps (DSC) personnel were gunned down because of “bad luck”. As a former DCOAS told me the DSC is manned by “army discards”. Even so, could they be so devoid of the basic soldierly competence to saunter into the terrorists’ gunsights?

(4) And where was the IAF’s Garud Special Force — other than the one person who was killed in the exchange of fire, and how did it perform its duties over the expanse of the air base stretching over 2,000 acres and with a nearly 30-mile long perimeter without any CCTVs mounting a 24/7 watch not just over the aircraft on the tarmac, but the rest of the base as well?

(5) And, finally, for what reasons was the NSG judged by NSA Doval as the potentially more effective force to deal with the heavily armed terrorists than the army units in the vicinity and familiar with the terrain specifics, and definitely having as much competence, if not more, in defusing explosive packages? It is perhaps explosives handling that the DG,Punjab Police was hinting at in his press meet this evening when he talked of why NSG came onto the scene rather abruptly.
What should be India’s “befitting” reply:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has risked barbs and further political diminution on the national stage for the sake of keeping the dialogue channel open to Pakistan, rather than do the easy thing and suspend something that has not even got underway. India desperately needs to shield bilateral relations with Pakistan from the attempts of the deep state in Pakistan — the Pakistan Army and its singular mischief arm, ISI, to enable the forging of strong trade and commercial ties with that country as a means of nursing a Pakistani economic stake that, along with the civil society in Pakistan could, in time, become a counterweight to the army in Pakistan. But that day’s a long way off yet.

So, what’s the best befitting reply to be? As I have been saying over 30 years — it is kutayuddha or covert and asymmetric warfare. If GHQ-Rawalpindi finds dividend in launching the Azhar Masoods and Hafiz Sayeeds and their groups across the border, why has Delhi stayed its hand these many years of responding to 26/11 type of excesses and Pathankot-type armed intrusions by bumping off these terrorist figureheads rather than trying to capture them and indulging in related antics? Precision kills by clandestine agents and means are not all that difficult to execute. But to order such actions requires a strong will and that has been the black hole, turning India into a terrorist punching bag. It is such befitting response that, alas, will not be forthcoming.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Pathankot mysteries and “befitting” reply

  1. Rituraj Rao says:

    No offense intended !!
    One western professor mentioned yesterday that India is a soft state. Even on the boundary of being a ‘nation of cowards’. He compared with the tiny France which went on air strikes against ISIS after the Paris attacks. India which has been facing attacks since last three decades, with ten times intensity of Paris attack ones, is ‘sharing intelligence leads with ISI after Pkot attack !!!! Unf*****gbelievable!!!

    My western friends don’t understand this passivity and ‘unrequited love’!! As an Indian in foreign lands, its stressful to see India being branded a soft state. Especially when Indian Army has fought all World Wars and majors wars in history, all over the world victoriously.

    Mr Modi is close to losing mine and my fellow generation’s vote!!

  2. Manjit S Sidhu says:

    I agree with the contents of the post by BK, but some how now started feeling that what is the use of doing the postmortem of the various deficiencies, when we repeatedly failed to learn and implement any of the lessons, learned the hardest way. It is happening for many years now we have seen almost similar reaction, comments by politicians, public anger and so one but then what? Has any thing changed for all these years, if yes what is that and if not then why not? Repeated failures are frustrating

  3. Vijaya Dar says:

    Generally, I tend to disagree with most of your political posts, as I find your anti-Modi and anti-BJP bias a bit too pronounced. However, I find a resonance with whatever you have said in this article. Even I believe that the Gurdaspur SP’s story is full of holes and needs to be thoroughly investigated. He and his associates must be taken to a secure holding area where they can be intensely interrogated, without the fear of them getting bumped off by those they are likely to implicate. Some Akalis in the government are too deeply involved in the drug business and will try to protect themselves by silencing the facilitators.

    I too have been advocating a surgical strike against the Terror heads in Pakistan who must be clandestinely eliminated. However, an operation of this kind will have to remain completely secret and the government cannot be expected to make any announcements to the public.

    • Vijaya Dar@ — Among mainline analysts, I was among the first to welcome Narendra Modi’s entry on the national scene as far back as 2011-12 (look up my blogs!), hailing it as an opportunity for a right-of-centre ideology of “minimum government, maximum governance” — remember that!! — to take hold and spread. Modi has done little along these promised lines, sticking instead with the policy establishment as-is to realize his agenda, which is like relying on the decrepit chowkidar to take on jihadis. It is disappointment and disillusionment with Modi, and frustration with what he could have done but didn’t that inspires my criticism of his govt’s policies.

  4. Shiva says:

    The most plausible explanation about the SP that’s doing rounds on Twitter, which I think makes best sense is that, – the SP went there to take his cut from the smugglers but was shocked to find terrorists. The terrorists let him go away, as he would be useful for smugglers. The SP came up with the ‘I talked sweet’ story, which the Punjab Police didn’t seriously. The SP also had a case for harassing a female police officer.

  5. Shail says:

    He could have just kept shut but didnt. Why?

  6. Arjun says:

    You mention arthshashtra, kuttayudha, and covert ops via SF. You leave it there. I don’t know if this ambiguity is intentional, but I was hoping you could shed more light on the escalatory ladder with regards to proposed clandestine missions.

    Let us assume your statement is true – that it is trivial to ‘touch’ terrorists across the border. Even if all terrorists were killed, GHQ Rawalpindi could still recruit rogue elements from the army, and give the green light for a 26/11 type attack where *Indian civilians are targeted.

    There has been an example of this in the past – IC 814.

    The kuttayudh you speak of will always have asymmetrical nature, that is no matter how many terrorists are neutralized, if a handful of Indian civilians fall victim to GHQ’s response for eliminating the assets, India still loses. The objective is not achieved.

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