To rely almost entirely on the bravery of our security forces to overcome terrorists rather than put efficient systems in place to protect them better while they counter threats is a great disservice to those we profess to admire. The attack in Pathankot lasted more than two days but the scale of operational failures during the counter-terrorist assault should cause serious worry about our security preparedness.
The authorities had advance intelligence about an attack and National Security Guard commandos were rushed in but there were several lapses. For instance, the accounts of the kidnapped superintendent of police, Salvinder Singh, evidently did not evoke the kind of alarm among authorities that it should have. How appropriate the chain of command was to the demands of the operation is a matter to consider in the future, but poor decision-making was there for all to see. The Defence Security Corps, drawn from retired personnel, was sent to investigate the intrusion leading to loss of lives. The government did not know how many terrorists were involved in the operation and if they comprised one or two teams. It was particularly embarrassing for ministers and officials to declare the operation over on Sunday, only to find two terrorists still at large and detonating explosives. The communications strategy lacked coherence, conviction and was sometimes superfluous.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has ordered a probe, which must unflinchingly shed light on the state of our border security and point to flaws in the operation to counter the terrorists. Pathankot should be a wake-up call. That the terrorists could easily intrude into and hold a major air force base hostage for a long period casts doubt on the security of our industrial infrastructure, cities and iconic locations. Analysts have begun to wonder if our nuclear reactors are anymore safer than air force bases. Securing a continent-size country like India is, of course, not easy. But the State should be able to demonstrate to citizens that it can assess weaknesses and can take corrective action. There are issues of physical infrastructure, training, expertise and coordination among agencies that need to be forensically examined and remedial improvements made. This season already appears to be one of violent geopolitics, given the simultaneous attack on the Indian consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif. Elements in Pakistan seem hell-bent on stoking India-Pakistan tensions through brazen acts of terror. We do not have much time to get our act together.