The attack on the Pathankot Indian Air Force Station officially ended on Tuesday evening with the Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar himself issuing a statement confirming the same. But combing operations were still on till late on Wednesday.
On Thursday, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup told a press conference that the attack on the base points at hands across the border and that the “ball is in Pakistan’s court”.
“The immediate issue is Pakistan’s response to the Pathankot attack and actionable intelligence provided to it.” .
Stressing that India will not let the dialogue process derail, Swarup said that cross-border terrorism is again in focus after the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air force base.
While Pakistan has promised to assist India in investigations related to the attack, many in India have criticized the operation itself that cost the lives of seven Indian security personnel.
The decision to fly in the NSG instead of utilizing Indian Army troops stationed in the area has been criticized.
During his visit to the base on Tuesday, the Defence Minister too himself admitted to what experts have alleged – that there was a “security lapse” leading to the Pathankot attack.
Parrikar visited the Pathankot Indian Air Force base in Punjab on Tuesday along with the chiefs of the army and air force. Sharad Kumar, the head of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which is probing the terrorist strike, also visited the base separately.
In a widely shared piece in the Business Standard, journalist (and retired Army Colonel) Ajai Shukla pin-pointed at the strategic missteps taken in the handling of the Pathankot attack – which led to it stretching for over four days.
Six terrorists were killed by the security forces, but the number of Indian casualties was higher by one and all of the Indian casualties were security personnel.
Shukla points out that the Pathankot cantonment, which is India’s biggest, has a troop strength of over 50,000 but the NSA decided to go for NSG instead of deploying the army itself, which, according to him, are better trained to handle terror strikes in locations as diverse as open spaces and forest covers.
He also pointed out that an NSG officer lost his life in an explosion from a booby-trapped terrorist’s body. He argues that the army, which has a better understanding of such ploys from its experience in J&K, approaches such bodies with caution.
But on Thursday, the Indian Army defended the decision stating that all three chiefs of the armed forces had agreed on deploying the NSG to protect around 3,000 family members of the IAF personnel living in quarters inside the base.
The NSG is trained for hostage rescue and counter-terror operations inside buildings. The authorities claim that it is because of this reason that the decision to deploy the elite security commandos for the operation, dubbed ‘Operation Dhangu’ after the name of the village where the station is located, was taken.
“It is incorrect that the army’s role was limited,” Western Command chief Lt. Gen. K.J. Singh said at the Chandimandir command headquarters near here.
“The first contact was by DSC and Garuds. The DSC fought bravely and one of them killed a terrorist and he was shot by another terrorist. “The second contact was by an army column. Thereafter, they were localised and the NSG neutralised them. The third and final contact was gained by army. This was a joint operation by special forces, Garuds and NSG.”
The air base that is spread in an area of 24 sq km has a mix of urban infrastructure, wide open areas and dense tree cover. You can see it from this map:
That the terrorists carried with them 50 kg of ammunition, 30 kg of grenades, and their assault weapons and yet managed to penetrate the base and kept on fighting for three days (the fifth was killed on the third day and the body of the sixth was found later) points at the very loopholes the defence minister admitted to.