Brijesh D. Jayal
Now that the tsunami that swept through newsrooms and electronic channels during and after the recent terrorist attack on the Indian air force station in Pathankot has blown over, it offers an opportunity to pause and reflect on the deeper ramifications of the entire event and, indeed, the national response to it. At one level, it would appear that this was in line with a series of such storms that continue to buffet the national scene at an alarmingly regular frequency. While debates on these can be considered part of an ongoing political turf war or a healthy democracy at play with an inquisitive media playing its rightful role, the Pathankot episode concerns not just national security, but how we, as a society, respond to a new and still evolving threat of terrorist violence unfolding across international frontiers. Such an event should be considered beyond the pale of partisan politics, media hype and ill-informed debate and discussion. This is all the more important since this is not going to be the last of such happenings and just as the armed forces will hold incisive debriefs and learn lessons, other institutions of our democracy would also be well advised to do so.
One understands the fierce competition that prevails in newsrooms of the electronic media for viewership, so that some of the debates tend to be dramatic and even hysterical. While this may be of good entertainment or viewer-rating value it would be fair to accept a degree of seriousness when covering the national security domain. More so when operations are ongoing and minders of terrorists are monitoring the media to glean information and guide their foot soldiers in real time. Getting hold of veterans and others eager to face the camera and calling them "defence experts" when some were not even considered so by their peers when they were in service, is to be unfair to a subject as serious as national security.
There has been much criticism on how terrorists could make an entry into a military airfield little appreciating that military airfields are spread over large areas and while all have security perimeter fencing/walls and so on, these can measure up to 20-30 kilometres in length and are by no means impenetrable in warlike situations unless secured by the army. That is why passive air defence and ground defence of airfields (as indeed many other pre-designated civil and military vital areas and vital points) during a state of war is the responsibility given to army formations who along with the IAF or other concerned authorities carry out routine exercises to ensure seamless and coordinated action in the event of a cautionary for hostilities being declared. During peace time a plethora of intelligence, police and paramilitary forces are expected to ensure that war-like threats are unable to rear their head.