Could better planning and coordination at the Pathankot airbase have saved the lives of our martyrs? I remember vividly the scene in Million Dollar Baby when Hilary Swank after winning her fight turns around to smile at coach Clint Eastwood; it is then that her opponent maliciously delivers that deathblow to her spinal cord which paralyses her for life. The moral of the story is, your opponent will always strike you when you least expect it.
This scene comes back to me when I read about the tragic deaths of our Air Force personnel who laid down their lives in the line of duty at the Pathankot airbase during the terror attacks claimed by Jaish-e-Mohammed fidayeen.
From Lt Col Niranjan Kumar, to corporal Gursewak Singh, to the havaldar Jagdish Singh - all fought bravely. While Niranjan gave up his life to save his teammates, Jagdish Singh was engaged in a tussle with one of the terrorists snatching away his AK-47 and killing the assailant, only to be shot dead by another terrorist.
However, despite these acts of bravery the battle has raged on. It still remains to be answered why the airbase - despite the warnings from intelligence agencies - was not on high alert. Why were the officers taken by surprise by the terrorists who sneaked into the Air Force mess and began spraying bullets?
Home minister Rajnath Singh tweeted about a relaxed situation on the airbase but it was premature. Two terrorists who remained hidden in the base and continued the 48-hour ambush.
Could those deaths have been avoided had there been greater vigilance and better planning? Why was the prime minster delivering a lecture on yoga during the attacks? No doubt, he has called for an emergency meeting with defence minister Manohar Parrikar, external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and NSA Ajit Doval, but it all came 50 hours too late.
I am reminded of US President George W Bush was reading to a class of kindergarten students about a little donkey while the Twin Towers in New York came tumbling down.
I am also reminded of how the senior officers, ATS chief Hemant Karkare, Army major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Mumbai's additional police commissioner Ashok Kamte and senior police inspector Vijay Salaskar were all gunned down by boys half their age in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. They died because not only were they poorly armed when they confronted the terrorists, but also because they were not mentally prepared for the kind of advanced weaponry that the "boys" were carrying.
It appears that history is constantly repeating itself, and we do not seem to be learning from it. Whether it is the Air Force, the Army, the police or the Navy (as was the case with the Mumbai attacks), our armed forces and law enforcers seem to consistently underestimate the weapons or the determination of terrorists and they always seem to get away with a higher body count, despite forewarnings.
Of course, there is the argument that in a war there are always casualties and martyrs.
Going by what home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi told the media in the first official press conference after the attacks, he did not consider it a high-level lapse at all. "In such situations where weapons are there, some injuries and some deaths will happen on this side also," he had told reporters.
However there is always room for improvement and late reactions, early jubilations and nonchalance need to be strictly avoided in these kinds of situations. As former Western Air Command chief air marshall PS Ahluwalia pointed out, the communication among the security agencies could have been better.
Surely the prime minister was not naïve enough to imagine that his hearty handshake with Nawaz Sharif in Lahore would go unanswered by the terrorists, who are clearly against any peace talks between India and Pakistan.
If he were to just look at history, then he would have noticed that his predecessor, AB Vajpayee, faced a similar backlash after his famous Lahore bus journey that got "answered" by the Kargil War.
While the ball is firmly in Pakistan's court and the latter's actions post this attack will determine the tone and the tenor of the peace talks between India and Pakistan, Delhi needs to be vigilant and focus on strengthening the porosity of its borders.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)