Three defence personnel including a commando were killed in the wee hours on Saturday after a group of Pakistan-based terrorists launched an attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot at around 3:30 am on Saturday. The siege ended with the gunning down of the five terrorists.
The attack has emerged as the first major challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's initiative to revive dialogue with Pakistan. While governments in both India and Pakistan were quick to condemn the attack as a cowardly act by those against peace in the region, opposition parties in India criticised Modi's foreign policy.
Speaking at an event in Mysuru, Modi said the attack was carried out by "enemies of humanity who can't see India progress" and expressed "pride" in the security forces for not letting the terrorists succeed.
On the other hand, Congress said the attack came a week after Modi visited Lahore where ISI, intelligence agency of Pakistan, continues to sustain and support terror activities against India. "It is a matter of serious concern. Will the Prime Minister take up the issue with Pakistan now that he has recently visited Pakistan," asked Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
While Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi said it was too early to comment on the issue, Islamabad denied the charges of alleged involvement of Pakistani establishment in the attack and said it would continue to support the talks with India.
"Pakistan condemns terrorist incident in Pathankot in which many precious lives have been lost. Pakistan remains committed to partner with India and other countries in the region to eradicate the menace of terror," Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Islamabad said in a statement.
Keeping India's powder dry, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar held a meeting with National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval and the three service chiefs at South Block. However, top ministers in Modi government refrained from criticising or blaming Pakistani official establishment for the attack. Kiran Rijiju, junior minister in the Ministry of Home Affairs, confined himself to saying that India had credible information that the attackers were sponsored by "some elements" from across the border.
Environment minister Prakash Javadekar, speaking at the BJP headquarters, said after Modi's Lahore initiative, the onus was on Pakistan to keep its solemn promise to India that it would not allow its land to be used for terrorism. "This process (talks) cannot be destroyed due to one attack... Pakistan is our neighbour. You cannot change your neighbour, you can change friends. And therefore, we must continue with the talks but talks have to be mainly on the issue of terrorism," Javadekar said.
The terrorists were reportedly members of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed. They entered India and communicated with Pakistan - Indian intelligence traced four phone calls between the militants in Pathankot and Pakistan handlers between 12:35 am and 1:40 am on Saturday. Before that, they had hijacked a police officer's car and driven it to the heavily guarded base - tactics used in earlier attacks by Pakistani-trained militants. Wearing army fatigues, the militants managed to enter the Pathankot air base in Punjab.
Once inside, they opened fire indiscriminately.
Security agencies were trying to locate the exact point from where these terrorists entered India. The Jammu and Kashmir border is under a thick snow blanket and the Line of Control is guarded by the Army in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts while the International Border (IB) is guarded by the Border Security Force (BSF).
In recent times, Punjab has become the new target of militant attacks. Late last year, a police station in Gurdaspur was attacked in a similar manner. Security experts in India suspect if some domestic extremist groups have aided Pakistani militants in these attacks. However, so far, there is no evidence of any local involvement in this attack.