Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Next Pathankot: India’s New Terrorism Battleground

The Next Pathankot: India’s New Terrorism Battleground

On January 2, a handful of militants attacked the Indian air force base at Pathankot, in Punjab. Indian security officials say that they belonged to the Pakistani-based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed, which India has long accused Pakistan of supporting. The men entered the base by disguising themselves in military attire and were finally subdued after a three-day siege. The fight left all of the terrorists and seven Indian security personnel dead. Even though the militants failed to achieve their goal—the destruction of large numbers of aircraft—they nevertheless exposed the vulnerabilities of a major air base.

This was the second foreign terrorist attack in Punjab within a span of six months—though the first at a military base, which is uncommon. The last attack had taken place in Gurdaspur in July 2015 and had led to the deaths of seven policemen.

First and foremost, the attacks reveal the inadequacy of Indian security. On this occasion, Indian intelligence failed to utilize advanced warnings of a possible attack; these same men were believed to have hijacked a vehicle of a senior Punjab police official shortly before the onslaught. Further, Pathankot is a major military base, and barely 50 miles from the international border with Pakistan. Yet it lacked adequate protection to deter the attack.

In fact, after the hijacking, the air force authorities could apparently only deploy patrols from the Defense Security Corps, a security force composed of mostly retired military personnel, due to a failure to anticipate a carefully orchestrated terrorist attack. The DSC personnel are neither suitably equipped nor trained to engage in counterterrorism operations. Although they bravely confronted the terrorists, and lost their lives doing so, they were woefully unprepared. Not only did they lack the requisite counterterrorism training, they had only standard issue, self-loading rifles. The terrorists were armed with sophisticated assault rifles and hand grenades.

The Indian minister of defense, Manohar Parrikar, has ordered a high-level inquiry into the attack. But it will be months before the results will…

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