Just a week after prime minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan, an Indian Air Force base at Pathankot, Punjab—about 50 kilometres from the heavily militarised border between the two countries—has been attacked by unidentified terrorists.
Six people—four gunmen and two Air Force personnel—have been killed so far in the attack that started at 3 AM on Saturday (Jan. 2), Reuters reported. The terrorists reportedly hijacked the car of a local police official, which they then drove to the military base, in a repeat of tactics previously used by Pakistan-based militants to attack Indian targets. “We are in the process of searching and sanitising the base by identifying all our personnel present at the base,” an official told the Indian Express.
Indian intelligence agencies apparently had prior information of the attacks, which helped them react quickly. The first terrorist was killed just as he was climbing the 10-metre-high wall of the base. “But we don’t know if they all entered over the wall or through the gate. They could have had multiple entry points. We are in the process of investigating that,” an unnamed senior official told the Indian Express.
No terrorist group has taken the responsibility of the attacks yet, but the incident will be widely interpreted as an attempt to derail the recently resumed dialogue between India and Pakistan. “The moment that Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center, a think-tank in Washington, told Reuters. “At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one.”
Pathankot is a key base for the Indian Air Force’s MiG-21 Bison fighters and Mi-35 attack helicopters. This is the second terrorist attack in the northern state of Punjab in less than a year. In July last year, terrorists had stormed into a police station in Gurdaspur district, leading to a 12-hour-long gun battle that killed at least nine people.