Remaining gunmen ‘cornered’ at air force base – India

Published: Monday 4th January 2016 by The News Editor

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India has said at least two gunmen who attacked an air force base remain alive and has vowed to kill them to end a bloody siege which has lasted more than 48 hours.

At least seven troops and four gunmen have been killed in the fighting at the Pathankot base near the Pakistan border, which started before dawn on Saturday .

Earlier, India said all the gunmen were dead, but today home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi said the last two had been cornered and would be “neutralised” soon.

The attack on the base is seen as an attempt to undo recent improvements in the relationship between arch-rivals India and Pakistan. It comes a week after Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister in 12 years to visit Pakistan.

Mr Mehrishi said Indian authorities were alerted about a potential attack in Pathankot and aerial surveillance at the base spotted the suspected militants as they entered the compound. He said they were engaged by Indian troops and were kept away from the base’s aircraft and military equipment.

Since Saturday morning the base has been swarming with air force commandos, troops from India’s elite National Security Guard and local police.

Air Marshal Anil Khosla said the base would not be declared fully secured until the entire area was checked by troops.

The sprawling base is spread over several miles, including some forested sections. It houses a fleet of India’s Russian-origin MiG-21 fighter jets and Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, along with other military hardware.

The defence ministry said no aircraft or military equipment had been damaged in the fighting.

The base is on the highway that connects India’s insurgency-plagued Jammu and Kashmir state with the rest of the country. It is also very close to India’s border with Pakistan.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, but is claimed in its entirety by both. Rebels in India’s portion of Kashmir have been fighting since 1989 for independence or a merger with Pakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the insurgents, a claim Islamabad denies, and the attack is being viewed as a possible attempt to unravel recent progress in the relationship between the two nations.

Police they do not know if the gunmen came from the Indian portion of Kashmir, where rebels routinely stage attacks, or from Pakistan.

The violence follows Mr Modi’s surprise Christmas Day visit to Pakistan, where he met his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif – a trip that marked a significant thaw in the mostly tense relations between the nuclear-armed neighbuors.

The two also held an unscheduled meeting at the Paris climate change talks last month.

Before Mr Modi’s visit to Pakistan, the national security advisers of both countries met in Thailand and the foreign secretaries of both nations are to meet in Islamabad later this month.

The responses to the weekend attack from both countries have been muted so far, with neither New Delhi nor Islamabad giving any indication that the planned talks are under any threat.

In Pakistan, as the attack was unfolding, Mr Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz said Pakistan wanted to consolidate its improved relations with India. Pakistan’s foreign ministry condemned the attack.

The reaction in India has also been quiet. While all political parties condemned the attack, there were no demands that the government call off talks with Pakistan. In the past, when it was in opposition, Mr Modi’s own right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party was a vocal critic of engagement with Pakistan.

Published: Monday 4th January 2016 by The News Editor

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