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Government failed to learn from Pathankot airbase attack: House panel

The panel also questioned the role of the Punjab Police and their handling to the events in the run-up to the assault.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2017 21:07 IST
Rajesh Ahuja
Pathankot airbase
Security personnel guarding inside the Pathankot Air Force base after the end of their operation against militants on January 5, 2016.(PTI)

A parliamentary panel has said something is “seriously wrong” with the country’s counter-terror establishment, as it pulled up the government for failing to learn from the Pathankot airbase attack and preventing more such strikes.

The audacious attack on the forward base in the border state of Punjab on January 2, 2016 left seven security personnel dead. It took forces three days to secure the airbase. India has blamed Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack.

The panel also questioned the role of the Punjab Police and their handling to the events in the run-up to the assault.

“The committee understands that in this attack, the role of the Punjab Police is also very questionable and suspicious…,” the panel said in a report tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

It took the Punjab Police a long time to realise that the abduction of a superintendent of police was not just a “criminal robbery but it was going to be serious national security threat”.

Read | NSG ignored plea to rescue two guards trapped during Pathankot attack, says air force officer

The panel said it couldn’t understand why the terrorists let off SP (Salwinder Singh) and his friend and called for a thorough probe by the National Investigation Agency, the country’s premiere counter-terrorism body.

Four men had on December 31, 2015 snatched the SP’s vehicle in Dinanagar close to the Pakistan border. The multi-utility police car was found abandoned 500 metres from the airbase the next day. The SP’s claim that his friend and he were abducted by the attackers has remained suspicious.

Headed by former Union home minister P Chidambaram, the parliamentary standing committee on home affairs said the role of narco-syndicate active in Punjab’s border areas should also be investigated “as the terrorists might have taken help of channels or networks used by smugglers to infiltrate the border, shelter and carry out terror attack”.

Punjab is battling a drug problem and it was one of the main issues in the recently concluded state elections.

A terror alert was sounded well in advance but terrorists still managed to breach the high-security air base and attacked it, the panel said.

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Talking about subsequent strikes on defence installations in Pampore, Uri, Baramulla, Handwara and Nagrota, all in Jammu and Kashmir, the panel said there was comprehensive failure to prevent recurrence of Pathankot-like attacks.

There was an urgent need to strengthen the security network and plug serious gaps in intelligence gathering or sharing, it said.

The panel also questioned the government decision to allow a Pakistani joint investigation team to visit the base. It asked if the government had insisted that an Indian probe team be allowed to visit the neighbouring country to gather evidence and whether Islamabad had agreed to it.

“…and, if Pakistan had not agreed to the demand, why was the Pakistan team allowed to visit India without a commitment to allow a reciprocal visit by an Indian investigation team?”

During its visit to the airbase, it found security wanting. The growth of long shrubs and trees in the premises might have helped terrorists hide, making difficult for security forces in combing out the attackers, the panel said.

The airbase should be declared a high-security zone and people residing around the airbase should be kept out, it said.

Read | No direct evidence Pathankot attack militants entered through border: BSF