After weeks of speculation, a Pakistani Joint Investigation Team (JIT) finally descended on Pathankot, the scene of a bloody skirmish in early January. At least four suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists managed to sneak into an Indian Air Force base before laying siege to it and killing seven persons, including a few of the IAF’s Garud commandos on 2 January.
At the time, different wings of the Narendra Modi government made embarrassing pronouncements – on how the terrorists entered Indian territory, the number of armed men who gained entry into the high-security air base, the manner in which the anti-terror operation was conducted on the ground and in the corridors of power.
But where the Modi government lost face was on the vital question of how the terrorists crossed the international border in the Pathankot sector.
Allowing SP to go Scot-Free
Media investigations suggested that a superintendent of police of adjoining Gurdaspur district and two of his associates, acting in a manner prejudicial to the interests of the country’s security, helped the terrorists reach the airbase on the intervening night of 31 December - 1 January.
Media reports of the time also indicated a strong possibility of the cross-border drug mafia, in which the Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh was suspected to have been mixed up, helped push the terrorists into a Pathankot border village from where they used the SP as a convenient and willing shield to reach the airbase in the police officer’s vehicle.
Entrusted with investigating the case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) instead made a hash of it. It pussyfooted on the case in general and the SP’s culpability in particular. In what was a sham probe, it called the Gurdaspur SP for “questioning”, put him through a lie detector test which the officer passed with aplomb when the whole wide world knew he lied on camera while projecting his innocence. The NIA let the SP walk free when he should have been arrested in the first instance.
Making National Security the Sacrificial Lamb
- The NDA
govt lost face on the vital question of how terrorists crossed the
international border at Pathankot.
- The NIA
pussyfooted on the case in general and the SP’s culpability in particular.
- The NIA let the Gurdaspur
SP Salwinder Singh walk free when he should have been arrested in the first
- Blame must also
be shared between key central government functionaries and some BJP-Akal Dal
politicians desperate to keep the alliance alive.
- By allowing
Pakistan’s JIT to visit Pathankot, the government has undermined the NIA which was
not allowed to act freely and independently.
Politics Won Over National Security
Clearly, politics – coalition politics in Punjab – got the better of national security. For that, the blame must be equally shared between key central government functionaries and some BJP-Akal Dal politicians desperate to stick together in a state where the political ground beneath them had begun to feel shaky. Political expediency and not national security had won the day. National security was sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
It was, to put it briefly, ham-handed. Instead of involving the army’s special forces, which have the expertise to take on terrorists in a wide geographical area, the NSA lay more faith on the National Security Guard which is trained to operate in urban settings and in more confined zones of action. The result was chaos followed by needless loss of precious lives.
Has the NIA Been Undermined?
The Pakistani JIT’s visit has actually made Indians appear like amateurs. Latest reports indicate that the government would allow the errant SP to be questioned by the visiting team of investigators. He will likely stick to his story, but the crucial point is whether the JIT will be given access to the SP’s jeweller friend Rajesh Verma and cook Madan Gopal.
While the government might be patting itself on its back for graciously allowing the Pakistan team to investigate the Pathankot attack, what it has really done is to undermine the NIA which in the first place was not even given the opportunity to act freely and independently.