Heads are likely to roll for serious lapses leading to the terrorist attack on the Pathankot air base, senior officials said on Wednesday, as calls for fixing responsibility grew shriller across the security establishment and political spectrum.
Seven security personnel including an officer of the elite National Security Guards (NSG) were killed in the siege of the airbase, one of the biggest and most strategic defence installations in the country. At least six terrorists, who had managed to infiltrate the highly-guarded airbase, were also killed in the incident.
“It would be premature to fix accountability but there are several indications that people entrusted with specific tasks did not measure up. The role of officials from the BSF, the state police and the IAF will be minutely examined,” a top official said.
No agency would be allowed to sidestep blame and firm action would be taken after a thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to the attack, the official added.
Questions have already been raised about the role of the BSF after the terrorists exploited gaps in Indo-Pak border security to sneak into Punjab before infiltrating the high security base.
The terrorists also roamed freely for more than 20 hours without being detected by the state police, the officials said, and pointed out that security personnel at the airbase, already on a high alert, also could not prevent the attackers from infiltrating into the installation.
“If we have to prevent future attacks, heads have to roll. Organisations can’t shrug off blame and give themselves a clean chit,” the government officer said.
As several unanswered questions continue to baffle the security establishment, experts also demanded swift action against those responsible for the lapses.
“It’s quite obvious we failed to draw lessons from the 26/11 terror strike and other recent attacks. And that’s why we keep suffering casualties. Accountability has to be fixed at the earliest to prevent security lapses,” said General Deepak Kapoor (retd), who was the army chief when the Mumbai attacks took place.
He said the fighter base’s perimeter security should have been made fool-proof as soon as hard intelligence about a possible strike was received.
Several IAF officials HT spoke to said the air force could not be expected to secure the perimeter of huge bases – Pathankot’s measures 25 km.
“The IAF can only guard its vital assets in such a scenario. We should not jump to any conclusions till all questions are answered. Remember no vital assets were lost,” said a former IAF chief, requesting anonymity.
Experts also flagged concerns about no lessons being learnt after last year’s Dinanagar attack. Former army vice-chief lieutenant general Philip Campose said, “The security establishment should have come up with some solutions after the Dinanagar strike. That attack changed the dynamics entirely as it was the first strike outside Jammu and Kashmir. But it’s clear no methodology of response was worked out.”