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Pathankot terror attack: Pakistan army is keeping its options open

Manoj Joshi
Manoj JoshiJan 03, 2016 | 11:59

Pathankot terror attack: Pakistan army is keeping its options open

The attack on the Indian Air Force's (IAF) Pathankot base by a gang of armed Pakistani terrorists was not entirely unexpected. After all every time efforts are made to push for normalisation, there is a push-back by forces opposed to it. In that sense, this is an old story in the India-Pakistan relations.

Five attackers hijacked the car of the Gurdaspur superintendent of police (SP), Salwinder Singh, near Dinanagar, and used it to reach the gate of the IAF base, where they were eventually contained and eliminated.

There are three problems here. First, why did they let the SP off, considering he was a senior police officer. Second, this is the area near Gurdaspur, which was attacked on July 27, 2015, and which was itself unusual because it is in Punjab, not Jammu & Kashmir where most of the attacks take place. And the third is why was the police not able to locate the militants even though they knew about the SP's abduction, 24 hours before the Pathankot attack.

Modus operandi

This is the fifth attack since September 2013, which follows a near identical pattern. A small group of militants, dressed in army fatigues, crosses the international border in Jammu & Kashmir which runs roughly parallel to the NH1A in a south-easterly direction from Jammu to Kathua and then loops south at the Ravi river to Pathankot and Gurdaspur.

After crossing the border they hike to the highway which is some 10-15km away and hijack a passing vehicle and head for a target, usually a police station or an army camp. This is heavily serrated riverine terrain which facilitates small groups penetrating the border cordon which is maintained by the BSF in this area.

September 26, 2013: A couple of days ahead of the Manmohan Singh-Nawaz Sharif meeting in New York, militants dressed in army fatigues struck a police station at Hiranagar near Kathua killing several policemen, later they attacked an army camp before being gunned down. A total of 12 persons, including an army officer were killed.

November 27, 2014: Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was meeting his Pakistani counterpart at Dhulikhel, Nepal, four gunmen who had come across the border, ran into an army patrol in the Arnia sector of Jammu. They were killed in the ensuing encounter which left three army men and five civilians dead.

March 28, 2014: Two days after a Modi election rally near Jammu, three militants in army uniform hijacked a vehicle killing a civilian and injuring another and then attacked an army camp at Janglore and killed a jawan, before being shot.

July 27, 2015: Three gunmen dressed in army fatigues fired on a bus at Dinanagar, near Gurdaspur. They had hijacked a car to reach the local police station - the target of the attack. Three civilians and four policemen were killed along with the three militants.

There were two points about the attacks that are not easy to explain.

First, the attackers seem to have come from the Jammu side and then made their way into Punjab, when they could have hit many targets in Jammu. Second, they planted five bombs in a railway track near Dinanagar, which were found and defused. In other words - the aim was to create mass civilian casualties.

Patterns

August 5, 2015: Two militants launched an attack on a BSF convoy near Udhampur, killing two BSF personnel. One of the militants was killed, while the other, Usman Khan, was captured. Unusually, the two came through northern Kashmir, crossed the Valley and targeted the convoy. The attack was also unusual in that it was the first in the Udhampur district, in over a decade.

The common pattern in these Army personnel stand guard at the IAF base in Pathankot attack is that they typically do not really target civilians. Many of the civilian casualties are collateral damage.

The main targets of the attackers are police, paramilitary and army camps or posts. Of course, the bombs on the railway tracks in Dinanagar, do not fit into the pattern.

Strategy

There appears to be a carefully thought through strategy in the attacks on military or police camps, because these events do create headlines when they occur, but they are quickly forgotten. Mass civilian casualties generate huge negative attention.

In this case, it appears that the attacks are aimed at keeping the Jammu & Kashmir pot simmering, but not allowing it to boil over. In that sense, you can be sure that there is ISI connivance, if not control, in the attacks. This means that the Pakistan army is keeping its options open, despite the efforts being made by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to normalise relations between the two countries.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: January 03, 2016 | 11:59
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