Terrorists storm air force base, first challenge to Modi’s Pak outreach

The terror attack on a forward fighter base is qualitatively very different from the Gurudaspur attack.

January 02, 2016 08:39 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:00 pm IST - NEW DELHI

In a reality check for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to reach out to Pakistan on Christmas day, four terrorists, who in all probability sneaked in from across the border, launched an audacious attack on Pathankot air force base on early Saturday morning.

Four terrorists have been killed along with two commandos, some civilians and air force personnel were injured.

The gunbattle between terrorists and security forces at the Air Force Base here that lasted for more than five hours and left two Air personnel and four terrorists dead, has come to an end.

Combing operations are underway.

“The gunbattle between terrorists and security forces ended after more than five hours,” Punjab Police ADGP (Law and Order) H S Dhillon said.

Available information shows that the terror attack was a New Year present and message to the Indian establishment, with the four of them in all probability sneaking in from Pakistan on January 1, and launching the attack on the early morning of January 2. It may never be clearly known if even a section of the Pakistan establishment was involved in the attack, or which other elements were party to the terror plan. That fog of war will also create complex challenges to decision making in New Delhi.

According to air force sources, the attack started around 3:30 am. It is not clear how they entered the base. Some said dressed in army fatigues, they used an official car to come close by, while others said they started firing from a nearby building and moved forward.

Air Force sources said while the terrorists were successful in entering the base, they have not been able to breach the technical area, where MIG-21 fighters are based. Air Force’s Garud commandos of the air force, local police, probably army and the BSF are all involved in the operation.

A commando team from the National Security Guard (NSG) was on its way.

According to indications, the terrorists were the same group who abducted a Superintendent of Police (SP) in Pathankot on Friday night, in his official vehicle. After thrashing the SP and his associates, the terrorists first dumped SP Salwinder Singh a few kilometers away and sped away into the night.

Later, they pushed another person out of the vehicle near Pathankot and slit the throat of the third man. He was dropped near Damtal hills on the Punjab-Himachal border after he pretended to be dead. This was just 15 kilometers from Pakistan border.

The attack is the first reality check for Modi’s efforts to reach out to Pakistan, and the global community would be watching closely how the NDA government in New Delhi will react to the attack. Evidence of the terrorists coming in from Pakistan would not be difficult to find. But will it be enough to blame the Pakistan establishment, and call off peace efforts?

Pattern of terrorists sneaking in from Pakistan and launching attack on high profile targets within hours of infiltration has been the new pattern in the last couple of years. In July this year a similar attack was launched in Gurudaspur by terrorists who came in from across the border.

However, the terror attack on a forward fighter base is qualitatively very different from the Gurudaspur attack. The targeting of a military installation will not be just countered with mere condemnation. It will have to be seen what concrete steps will Modi government take, and what fate the new peace efforts will have in the coming days.

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