Pathankot attack: India PM Modi urges Pakistan action

Narendra Modi (L), Nawaz Sharif (R) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Modi (left) urged Mr Sharif (right) to "take prompt and decisive action against the terrorists"

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged Pakistan to take action against militants India says are responsible for a deadly assault on an air base.

Mr Modi urged an "immediate" response to the Pathankot base attack in Punjab after his counterpart Nawaz Sharif telephoned him to discuss the violence.

Mr Sharif promised Pakistan would take "prompt and decisive action against the terrorists", Indian officials said.

Indian troops killed six militants during a four-day battle at the base.

India's Press Information Bureau said India had provided Pakistan with "specific and actionable" information on the attack.

All eyes on Pakistan's military - M Ilyas Khan, Islamabad

Nawaz Sharif's phone call to Narendra Modi is a continuation of attempts at rapprochement between the two leaders that began in the summer.

The Indian government has desisted from officially blaming Pakistan for the Pathankot attack, something which Mr Sharif appreciated in his conversation with Mr Modi.

Now, the obvious next step for Pakistan would be to take tangible action against the anti-India Kashmiri militant alliance, the United Jihad Council (UJC), which has said it carried out the assault. UJC chief Syed Salahuddin and most of the group's other leaders and cadres are widely understood to be living in Pakistan. The alliance has been described by many analysts in the past as an asset of the Pakistani military.

Action against the UJC would be seen as an indication that Pakistan's powerful military is willing to reduce tensions with India in line with Mr Sharif's policy. If not, then analysts fear the civil-military power equation in Pakistan may worsen.

The assault started on Saturday, when a group of gunmen - wearing Indian army uniforms - entered the residential quarters on the base. Three days of heavy gunfire followed as Indian troops battled the gunmen.

India's Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told journalists on Tuesday that "all six terrorists were neutralised". But he added that the search at the base was likely to continue for days before it could be declared completely safe.

Mr Parrikar said troops took more than three days to "neutralise the militants" because of the size of the air base.

Pathankot: A strategic location

Image copyright EPA
  • The Pathankot air force base extends over about 2,000 acres, including some areas covered with tall vegetation.
  • The base's commanding officer Air Commodore JS Dhamoon has described it as a "mini-city". It includes homes and a school for the children of air force personnel.
  • Pathankot is home to a fleet of MiG-21 fighter jets and Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, along with other military hardware.
  • The base and the state of Punjab as a whole has "probably the highest concentration of military personnel in India because it's so close to the border with Pakistan," analyst Rahul Bedi from Jane's Information Group told AP.
  • It occupies a highly strategic position on the main highway connecting Kashmir with the rest of the country. It is also very close - about 35km - to the border with Pakistan.

The attack is being seen as a blow to an apparent Indo-Pakistani peace initiative launched just days ago.

Hopes for a thaw in relations were raised after Mr Modi paid an unexpected visit to Mr Sharif on his way back from Afghanistan in late December.

The United Jihad Council - a coalition of more than a dozen militant groups fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir - claimed its "national highway squad" was behind the attack.

The council, based in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, is headed by Syed Salahuddin who also leads Hizb-ul Mujahidin, the longest surviving Kashmiri militant group.

It said it wanted to show India that no security establishment was out of reach from militants, and that India should allow all Kashmiris to decide their political future.

Over the weekend some Indian security officials suggested the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed was to blame. India says the group is backed by Pakistan, but Islamabad denies this.

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