As Indian security forces continued combing through the sprawling air force base in Pathankot for the third day running, a Kashmir-based coalition of militant groups claimed responsibility on Monday for the brazen attack, which has killed at least 11 people, including Indian soldiers.
More than 60 hours after six militants entered the Indian Air Force base near the India-Pakistan border, sporadic gunfire and explosions suggested soldiers were still engaged in clearing the airbase. Seven soldiers have died so far, security officials said.
Earlier, authorities had claimed of neutralising five of the suspects.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who attended a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security, said the government wanted to capture militants alive, which was why the operation took longer. He added it would be premature to comment as the operation was still going on.
But a deeply offended India mulled how to ratchet up the costs for the sponsors of this move. All indications suggest the talks between the foreign secretaries will be rescheduled and the security advisers will meet first to discuss the incident.
Perhaps anticipating this, the United Jihad Council (UJC) spoke up and took responsibility to deflect attention from the Pakistani state.
The council, which operates out of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, is headed by Syed Salahuddin, who also heads the Hizbul Mujahiddin, the longest surviving Kashmiri freedom-fighting group. The umbrella group was formed in November 1990 to bring all the outfits fighting against Indian occupation of Kashmir on a single platform.
UJC press releases were sent to the offices of most newspapers in Srinagar in the afternoon. However, the Indian government debunked these claims as a ploy to divert attention from the “real conspirators”.
Indian officials claimed the men who had been killed in Pathankot were from Multan and not the Pakistani side of Kashmir. This was evident, they said, from the cellphone calls the attackers made. The level of training and ammunition used also suggested institutionalised training, they added.
The UJC statement said the attack was an open message to New Delhi that Kashmiri fighters could strike at any military installation in India at any time.
UJC Spokesman Sadaqat Hussain said the attack was carried out by its National Highway Squad.
This name has, however, never been heard before in the conflict-hit areas of Indian Kashmir.
The spokesman added that Pakistan has nothing to do with the Pathankot attack but “the Indian government, media and its military establishment were suffering from Pakistan-phobia”.
“By levelling allegations against Pakistan, India cannot crush the ongoing struggle of the Kashmiri people,” Hussain stated, warning the Indian leadership to read the “writing on the wall” and let the Kashmiri people decide their future without further delay.
The Indian side, however, did not rush into attributing the blame on anyone or make accusations.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2016.