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
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
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
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