The Pathankot terror attack has exposed many chinks in India’s armour in combating and responding to terror. At the same time, initial reports pointing a finger of suspicion at Pakistan have disproved the fallacious impression that the Pakistan army is now inclined towards durable peace with India, and that the army was on board when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reacted enthusiastically to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impromptu goodwill gesture to stop over in Lahore on his way from Kabul to New Delhi.
As it appears, the Pakistan army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wanted to scuttle peace efforts, as they have consistently done after every major peace move. The signal was two-pronged — to warn their own government against succumbing to peace moves and to thwart India’s efforts to reduce the temperature on both sides.
While our failures on many fronts in the wake of the attacks must cause concern, it would be foolhardy to be blind to the few positives that have emerged, especially the fact that the strategic assets (the huge fleet of MiGs and helicopters at the Air Force base in Pathankot) were duly protected from the terrorists in a terror operation that was apparently targeting to blow these up.
Apart from the operational infirmities, there is the gaping reality that neither the ruling BJP nor the opposition parties in general came out glowing. There were no signs of the broad consensus that once characterised Indian foreign policy. The Pakistani army establishment must be congratulating itself at setting the two principal parties at each other’s throat even while the anti-terror operation was going on.
Indeed, even as the operation to track down the terrorists holed up in a part of the IAF base complex was taking place, leaders of the Congress and of some of its allies were busy lambasting the Central and state governments for what they called its “total failure” in handling the incident. Not a word of relief was expressed at the strategic assets remaining unharmed, from being duly protected from terror attack.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, harbouring a pathological dislike of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, issued a statement terming the internal security situation as ‘serious’ while party spokesperson Lalit Maken hit out at the government saying, “Institutions are functioning in isolation and not in tandem, which is scary.” Maken went on to say, “Complete disharmony and disjointed responses by those responsible for providing leadership in this time of a serious terror attack speaks volumes about the political leadership and also command and control structures within the Government.”
Some of Congress’ responses were pertinent but couldn’t the party have waited for some time before being so sweepingly judgemental? It was certainly surprising that the Cabinet Committee on Security had not met even once in the initial days following the terror strike. But why was there such a desperate need to fire a salvo at the Central government even before the counter-terror operation had ended?
The Congress was not alone in prematurely lashing out at the Modi government. “What is this happening? Why are attacks taking place in the country?” CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury asked, as if this was the first time such attacks were taking place in the country. In his typically sarcastic style, he enquired, “What is happening to the condition of the 56-inch government?”
The media too revels in making hasty judgements in the competitive race in which it finds itself. It too has been making summary judgements right from the word ‘go,’ condemning the Central and Punjab governments and their agencies without waiting for the combing operation to end. Our thoughts go back to the time when during the Mumbai terror attacks, some TV channels were giving virtual running commentaries of the combat and rescue operations of the military and police personnel, thereby endangering the lives of those who were inside the Taj Hotel that had been attacked by the terrorists.
The contrast with how the US Opposition and the media behaved in the aftermath of the blowing up of the World Trade Center Towers in New York by terrorists in the wake of 9/11 incident is too stark to be missed. The self-restraint that both the Opposition and the media exercised in not sensationalizing the terror incident was truly commendable.
In the Opposition’s obsession to paint the ruling establishment black, and the electronic media’s overweening desire to boost TRP ratings, there was unseemly haste in damning the establishments in New Delhi and Chandigarh, rather than demonstrating national resolve to face up to any foreign onslaught unitedly. Now that the counter-terror operation is done with and, hopefully, the whole area has been sanitized, some reflection is in order from independent quarters.
Two things stand out — the multiplicity of authorities dealing with the situation slowing down the process of combating the terrorists, and the lack of co-ordinated response to intelligence inputs. The manner in which the extremely vital inputs from a superintendent of police, who was abducted by the terrorists and then released, were ignored, smacked of an inexplicable degree of callousness.
The claims made by the Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police that he had been abducted by terrorists fell on deaf ears; and crucial time was lost without tracking them, as the terrorists struck at the air force base in Pathankot 12 hours later. Had the Punjab police acted promptly on the vital information, the operation to weed out the terrorists could have begun much earlier and Indian lives could well have been saved.
There is no denying that the Modi government is sending confusing signals on how exactly it wants to deal with Pakistan. The latest meeting of Abdul Basit, Pakistan’s High Commissioner in India with the top Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani in New Delhi, on Monday, has sent out wrong signals. The Modi government needs to be crystal clear on what kind of terms of engagement it wants to have in dealing with Pakistan.
The focus of which should be to have a clear-cut Kashmir and Pakistan policy.
By Kamlendra Kanwar aspublished in DNA – The author is a political analyst