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Hours before attack IAF moved MiGs, choppers out of Pathankot

January 08, 2016 10:06 IST

'As many as 29 explosions were recorded after the last terrorist was neutralised, giving an impression of continuing pitched battles!' reveals Rajeev Sharma.

Pathankot attack 

Did India's counter-terrorism machinery bungle in tackling the Pathankot terror attack challenge?

My answer is a big 'No!'

Why? Here's why.

A prime question is why the Indian government could not neutralise the terrorists in a heavily fortified military establishment like the Pathankot airbase in a jiffy when France had done so in a matter of two hours in civilian areas?

Why did India take four long days to neutralise terrorists who were initially four and later turned out to be more?

The Pathankot terror attack was dealt with in a surgical manner. The operations were personally choreographed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval who cancelled his strategically important China visit to be able to oversee the Pathankot counter-terror operations.

The success or failure of the Pathankot terror operation boiled down to just one question: Whether the NSA-led operations were able to deny the hardcore perpetrators meeting their single biggest objective of destroying the Pathankot airbase?

The question, in other words, is whether the Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists were able to even remotely meet their mission objective.

The answer is NO because most of the assets like the MiG-21 fighter aircraft and the Mi-25 helicopters had already been removed hours before the terrorists wreaked mayhem.

Moreover, a contingent of National Security Guards commandos had been harnessed and the perpetrators were kept engaged in counter-terrorism operations. All these NSG officers belonged to the Indian Army and drew their strength from the Indian Army.

Pathankot was a different ball game in comparison to the recent Paris terror attacks where all the perpetrators had been neutralised within two hours.

Pathankot was much different as terrorists, armed to teeth, had sneaked inside the Pathankot airbase, one of the biggest in India with over 2,700 acres of total area and a periphery wall of over 24 kilometres.

The size of the Pathankot airbase made the operations all the more tricky as Indian security managers were not sure as to how many perpetrators were still at large and their locations.

So, the next big task before the Indian security forces was to find out the exact number of the perpetrators and their locations.

The security forces were to reclaim the Pathankot airbase virtually milimetre by milimetre. The entire sprawling military facility had to be combed to check for booby traps and explosives.

As many as 29 explosions were recorded after the last terrorist was neutralised, giving an impression of continuing pitched battles!

Had the operation succeeded from this perspective of the perpetrators, they would have definitely gone ahead with their single point agenda of destroying the parked aircraft.

But Doval ensured that the terrorists did not achieve their ultimate mission of blowing up the strategic assets and the entire parked fleet.

Doval the wily fox ensured that not only are the strategic assets safe, but he also assured the NSG commandos were deployed hours before the actual strike by the terrorists began.

Thus, the infiltrators were kept bogged down to the periphery of the base and were never allowed into the sanctum sanctorum of the airbase.

One must not look at the Pathankot terror attack as what the terrorists managed to do, but as what they could have done.

The entire Pathankot incident was dealt professionally and the nation must thank Ajit Doval that the terrorists were denied deeper ingress largely because of deployment of the NSG sharpshooters. Under Doval's supervision, the NSG commandos were there to 'welcome' the intruders.

Pathankot was much different from the Paris terror attacks as the terrorists, who were armed to teeth on a fidayeen mission, were there to prolong their stay and maximise attrition.

If the NSG commandos had not been drafted in by Doval, the damage could have been much more. Imagine a situation wherein Pakistan-based JeM terrorists are able to destroy a military base right on the international border!

Imagine the humiliating and demoralising impact had the terrorists destroyed whatever aircraft and helicopters were still at the base!

Finally, compare this to the Indian response to the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. At that time scores of civilians died and property worth millions of dollars was damaged or destroyed. In this comparison, the Pathankot incident was virtually a walk in the park.

Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist and strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha

Rajeev Sharma