In its report on the Pathankot airbase attack, the department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs has submitted a scathing criticism of the country’s counter-terror apparatus, questioning how security agencies failed to prevent the attack despite an alert in advance.
The committee observed that “something is seriously wrong with our counter-terror security establishment” and also raised doubts about the role of the Punjab police, terming it “very questionable and suspicious”. The committee also said that during its visit to the Pathankot airbase, security measures were found lacking.
It also asked to be apprised on “what made the Government of India seek help from Pakistan into investigation of this terror attack and invite a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from Pakistan to India”.
The committee, headed by Congress MP P Bhattacharya, said, “First of all, the committee is unable to understand that in spite of a terror alert sounded well in advance, how terrorists managed to breach the high-security airbase and subsequently made attack (sic)”.
The panel comprised nine Rajya Sabha MPs and 21 Lok Sabha MPs. These included 10 from the BJP, five from Congress, three from AIADMK, two each from TMC and BJD, and one each from CPI, CPM, Shiv Sena, SP, NCP, SAD, TDP and TRS.
“The committee is constrained to note that despite concrete and credible intelligence inputs received from abducted and released Pathankot’s Superintendent of Police and his friend, and through interception of communication between terrorists and their handlers… disclosing that they were planning an attack on a defence establishment, the security agencies of our country were so ill-prepared to anticipate threats in time and counter them swiftly and decisively,” it said.
“The committee feels that something is seriously wrong with our counter-terror security establishment. Despite the fencing, flood-lighting and patrolling by BSF personnel, Pakistani terrorists managed to sneak into India from across the border,” it added.
On the role of the Punjab police, it said, “The role of the Punjab police is also very questionable and suspicious as even after abduction of the Punjab police SP, the Punjab police took a long time in arriving at the conclusion that their abduction was not just a criminal robbery but it was going to be a serious national security threat.”
The panel said it was unable to understand why the terrorists let the SP and his friend go, and this should be thoroughly examined by the National Investigation Agency. The role of the “narco-syndicate active in border areas of Punjab” should also be probed as the terrorists might have taken the help of channels or networks used by smugglers to infiltrate the border, find shelter and carry out the attack, it said.
The committee recommended that “in view of the series of attacks from across the international border in this area, the Government of India should pay attention to effectively sealing the border through enhanced patrolling, fencing, flood-lighting, etc”.
On its visit to the Pathankot airbase on February 11, the panel said, “The airbase’s security cover was not robust and it had a poorly guarded perimeter wall… (which) did not have patrolling around it. The committee also found growth of long shrubs and trees in the premises which might have helped terrorists hide, making it difficult for security forces in combing out these terrorists.”
The panel recommended that the Pathankot airbase be declared a high-security zone with round-the-clock patrolling.
The committee said that moving forward, it is of the view that “only security establishment/infrastructure in place will not do, but there should be proper intelligence gathering, timely sharing of inputs between various security agencies in real time, which will help anticipate and launch counter-terror operations”.
It added, “The committee hopes that the security agencies should learn lessons from terror attacks of the past to avoid mistakes in the future.”
The committee said there can be no two opinions on the fact that “Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group was behind this ghastly terror attack, which was established through interception of calls between terrorists and their handlers… Besides, weapons, ammunition and many items found in possession of the terrorists are also said to have ‘Made in Pakistan’ markings”.
“In view of the ease with which the terrorists sneaked into our side from Pakistan, the committee understands that the attack cannot take place without active support from security and intelligence agencies of Pakistan…,” the committee said.
Asked for his comments on the report, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, “We take serious note of recommendations regarding security. We will ensure that all those concerns are addressed properly and with seriousness. We will take steps. It is not a question of agreeing or not, the standing committee has raised concerns, we take any matter regarding security seriously.”