Just a week after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Lahore to meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the latter’s birthday (on December 25), a group of heavily-armed Pak terrorists attacked an Indian Air Force (IAF) base in northern city of Pathankot on Saturday.


However, the Indian armed forces gunned down five terrorists after a 17-hour-long battle and foiled their plan to blow up planes and helicopters stationed at the base. The IAF said in a statement that six Indian soldiers also died in the attack. According to the statement, the terrorists belonged to Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) outfit.

Reports suggest that a fresh grenade blast ripped through the IAF base in Pathankot on Sunday morning, claiming the life of a National Security Guard commando, as three other security men succumbed to injuries in a hospital after Saturday’s terror attack taking the toll of Indian security personnel to seven. Deputy Inspector General of the Indian Border Security Force Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh said that a joint combing operation was still underway on Sunday, as there were two more terrorists inside the air base in Pathankot.

Indian intelligence officers told the media that all the terrorists had entered India along the banks of the Beas River on January 31. They believe that the five JeM members, who infiltrated from Bamiyal (35km from Pathankot), targeted the air base as it has a great strategic importance. The air base provides logistical support to entire Jammu and Kashmir region, including Ladakh, and also provides operational range for deep air raids into the Pakistani territory. Intelligence officials further claimed that Pakistani handlers to the terrorists had arranged an ‘Innova’ cab for five JeM members by using a Pak mobile number. When the terrorists called their handlers after hijacking the car, they were asked to blow up planes at Pathankot airbase. Tracking intercepts, Indian armed forces beefed up security at the airbase and 160 Army commandoes also reached Pathankot from New Delhi at 2am (local time) on Saturday. After the Indian Army detected the terrorists with the help of thermal imaging, attack helicopters pinned them down with rockets. At around 3:30am, a gunfight began at the airbase. Finally, all the terrorists were gunned down (at around 5pm) after a 17-hour battle.

On Saturday evening, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh congratulated the armed forces for not allowing the terrorists to penetrate the defence cordon at the air base situated near the Indo-Pak border. Singh said that although New Delhi wants to normalise ties with Islamabad, but it would never tolerate terror attacks.

As the Pathankot terror attack took place just a week after the PM’s surprise visit to Pakistan, Indian opposition parties attacked Modi’s outreach to Islamabad, saying that the premier should demand action against the perpetrators from Pakistan. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Modi defended his “Pakistan policy”, stressing: “Enemies of humanity, who can’t see India’s progress, attacked the Pathankot airbase. But, our security forces did not let them succeed. I am proud of our soldiers.”

Indian foreign policy experts have backed the PM’s gesture, as they are of the opinion that the Pathankot attack should not scuttle Modi’s peace move. According to them, Saturday’s attack gives Modi a glimpse of the difficulties faced by his predecessor Dr Manmohan Singh while framing his Pakistan policy. Experts have advised the Modi government to ask Islamabad to take penal action against the outlawed JeM, which is behind the Pathankot attack, for a productive foreign secretary-level dialogue scheduled to take place in the Pakistani capital on January 15.

Meanwhile, Pakistan condemned the terror strike, saying that it remained committed to partner India in tackling terrorism on the basis of goodwill between the two countries created during the recent high level contacts. Hours before the terrorists entered northern Indian Province of Punjab, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that the two countries “cannot live as enemies”.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]