The attack by five heavily armed terrorists on the Air Force Base in Pathankot, Punjab, on Saturday morning, was aimed at downsizing the growing international statesman-like image of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, highly-placed sources said.
They said that elements in Rawalpindi (read Pakistan Army) were reportedly upset at the “unprecedented” positive reaction of the international community to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s out of the box master stroke visit to Lahore from Kabul, as also by the fillip given to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s international image because of the visit, besides encouragement for liberal echelons of Pakistan civil society.
The sources further said that though Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, might have okayed the meeting between the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India, the people around him might have got rattled by the unexpected boost to the stature of the civilian political leadership, and there was a distinct possibility that the coterie around General Sharif might have felt marginalized after the Lahore/Raiwind Estate summit meeting.
The Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) thus unleashed one of their strategic assets i.e. the JeM (Masood) to carry out the calculated high visibility target (defence installation) attack not in Jammu and Kashmir, but in Punjab. The objectives were to damage aircraft and other high value air force assets, and kill as many (air force/defence) personnel as possible.
The sources revealed that the attack’s calculation was to instigate the Indian defence establishment and opposition parties into taking hardliner positions and denounce the talks that had taken place between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif, and even try to stall the forthcoming foreign secretary-level talks scheduled for the middle of this month, and in turn, bring back focus of domestic Pakistani discourse in the GHQ (General Headquarters)-driven narrative centering on disinformation that such attacks are by Indian Kashmiri elements, and that Pakistan remains the most affected victim of terrorism.
Another line that was probably and possibly being projected by the Pakistan Army-ISI-JeM combine was that India, while maintaining a façade of going ahead with peace overtures, was actually only interested in finding an opportunity to hit out at Pakistan.
The sources said that the advance foreign intelligence and surgical intervention by Indian security agencies proved to be fruitful and rewarding in the sense that had this information not been available in time, the damage to assets and the casualties would have been much higher.
The counter-terror operation was supervised throughout the intervening night of Friday and Saturday personally by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the three service chiefs and senior intelligence officials.
The neutralizing of the terror attack, the sources said, should be seen as a major snub to the Pakistan elements behind it.
The dignified handling of the post-attack statements by the Indian Government and a similar response by the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will clearly dampen the spirits of the strategic Jihadi assets and their mentors in Pakistan, besides also exposing them once again to the world.