The government came under fire in Parliament on Wednesday over its handling of the Pathankot airbase attack as the Opposition alleged the incident exposed a lack of coordination between the ministries of home and defence.
Congress, Trinamool Congress, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Left members in the Lok Sabha trained their guns on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Lahore stopover a few days ahead of the January 2 strike. Attacking Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said, “The PM lacks vision and runs international diplomacy according to his whims and fancies.”
Seven security personnel, including a Lieutenant Colonel, and six terrorists were killed in the four-day gunfight that ensued.
The government said it was conducting a security audit to identify and fill gaps and asserted India wanted good relations with its neighbours, including Pakistan, but not at the cost of its “pride, dignity and self-respect”.
Congress chief whip Jyotiraditya Scindia said there was no coordination between ministries, pointing out the cabinet committee on security did not meet to discuss the situation.
“It was more a show-off and less effective,” he said. “Sarkar ki kathni aur karni mei bahut antar hai (There is a difference in what the government says and does).”
“The home minister tweeted saying we have killed the terrorists, while the home secretary said the operation was still on. And then the tweets had to be deleted. The defence minister was in Goa attending addressing a conclave of party workers,” Scindia said.
If the government knew about the presence of terrorists 48 hours before they struck, why were they allowed to roam for such a long time, Scindia asked. “There was army of 20,000 infantry in Gurdaspur, air force, NSG and BSF. Still, there was no single point of contact.”
Attacking Modi, the Congress leader said, “When the Pathankot attack was taking place, the Prime Minister was in Karnataka, attending a yoga event and tweeting about it.”
The BJD’s Kalikesh Narayan Singh Deo said it was “a critical mistake” to hand over the operation to the National Security Guard (NSG), a special anti-terror commando force raised in 1984. He claimed national security adviser Ajit Doval had “usurped” decision-making powers.
Intervening in the debate, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said the Pathankot attack was “accumulation of asymmetric” war. “These are small attacks of weak forces on a stronger force. When the weak forces know themselves that they are not going to succeed in defeating the stronger force, they try to create disturbances and demoralise the strong force,” he said.
In a veiled attack on the previous UPA government, Parrikar said, “I can quote many instances when military intelligence has been sacrificed at the altar of political goals. The compromise made earlier is probably one of the reasons why we are suffering today.”
He said certain organisations in Pakistan were making provocative statements and they should be taught a lesson. “We are in the process to ensure that our enemies cannot go scot-free.”
Home minister Rajnath Singh said different governments might have different action plans but nobody could say their strategy was foolproof. “No one can point a finger on any government’s intention when it comes to national security. When all political parties contribute only then can we ensure safety and security of the nation,” he said.
When Parrikar was reminded that the home minister had tweeted on January 1 the operation was over, the defence minister said, “Probably there was a small error which was immediately corrected. We totally foiled the terrorists’ attempt to make a big scenario.”