By DC Pathak
19 January 2016
The Pathankot attack has had three after-effects: It has raised questions about India's internal security, brought the Government’s response under a cloud, and unnecessarily revived concerns that the NSA isn’t a diplomat
The daring terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base, planned and directed from across our Western border, has three kinds of after-effects. First, all eyes are now on India’s internal security and the popular sentiment is in favour of the Ministry of Home Affairs that is rising to prove its demonstrable grip on this turf.
The Pathankot event, which is yet another evidence of the ongoing cross-border terrorism unleashed by the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence combine, to settle scores with India for the latter’s role in the liberation of Bangladesh, is widely seen as the present regime’s 26/11.
The wishy-washy response of Pakistan to India’s no-nonsense stand that the resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue will happen only when decisive action is taken against Maulana Masood Azhar and his lieutenants of the Jaish-e-Mohammed has made Indian public opinion allergic to a possible repeat of what happened after the Mumbai terror attacks.
The image and credibility of the then Government had been seriously dented as it came off as weak and unable to handle national security challenges effectively.
Lessons from Pathankot have to be built into our strategy for the future. India should note that the civilian leadership in Pakistan continues to fig leaf its Army as far as its India policy is concerned.
We should take into account the reality that the Pakistan Army has sensed the US dependence on it, in the matter of safeguarding American interests in the Pakistan-Afghanistan belt against the threat of Islamist radicals and, therefore, is leveraging it to demand concessions from India on Kashmir.
Another learning from the Pathankot attack is that the ISI is already taking advantage of the rise of the Islamic State and the revival of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, to palm off the blame for the attacks instigated by it on India using the militant outfits under its control, on these radicals.
There is still some confusion among our political leaders who put the anti-establishment violence of the Pakistani Taliban, which is an extension of the anti-West agenda of the radicals, and ISI-sponsored terrorism against India, in the same bracket.
It is this ignorance that led to the foreign policy faux pas at Havana where we granted shared victimhood to Pakistan on terrorism and agreed on intelligence-sharing in complete defiance of the basic rule of security, that you can share intelligence only with your established friends.
The second after-effect has been the ill-informed criticism in some circles of experts, of the Centre’s handling of the terrorist attack. Security failure results from any of the three reasons: (i) Absence of information, which is the classical ‘intelligence failure’ (ii) flawed dissemination which is called the failure of ‘communication’ and (iii) inadequate response which leads to failure of ‘action’.
In the case of Pathankot, intelligence was communicated to the right quarters and a specially-trained armed force was used to neutralise the attackers before any damage could be caused to the strategic assets.
An operation against an ‘invisible’ enemy in a situation where collateral damage had to be avoided cannot be run down merely because it appeared to have taken a lot of time. To pitch this as an issue of comparison between the Army and the Para-military force is clearly misplaced.
For an outsider, the possible flaw in the security at Pathankot was in ‘intrusion detection’ and lack of clarity in the protocols defining the local responders in an emergency.
A time-bound revalidation of the security regimen at establishments of strategic importance by teams of experts is indicated. It is good to find that a meeting chaired by the Home Minister has ordered this already.
Last but not the least, the aftermath of the Pathankot attack has produced a well- orchestrated lobby — mostly drawn from the community of foreign policy experts that voiced reservations against the function of the National Security Advisor being steered by a security professional rather than a diplomat.
These critics forget that foreign policy is, by definition, a product of national security and economic concerns. Its pre-occupation with security is made more important since it is now universally acknowledged that national security is inseparable from economic security.
Let the Pathankot experience lead us to a realistic strategy towards Pakistan. We should concentrate our diplomatic energy on mobilising world opinion against faith-based militancy that has already created a new asymmetric warfare at the global level. India, because of its history, is particularly sensitive to this threat.
DC Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau