Gunmen attack Indian air base near Pakistan border, seven dead
PATHANKOT, INDIA – Four gunmen and three guards were killed when unidentified militants attacked an Indian Air Force base near the Pakistan border on Saturday in an apparent challenge to attempts to revive a dialogue between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Officials said the gunmen, wearing army fatigues, managed to enter the Pathankot air base in India’s northwestern state of Punjab before dawn on Saturday. Once inside, they opened fire indiscriminately.
The four gunmen and two guards were confirmed killed, according to a home ministry official.
Sporadic gunfire continued into the day and helicopters flew as an operation continued to comb the base in search of any more gunmen. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The attack came a week after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an impromptu visit to Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, in a bid to revive bilateral talks that had previously been derailed.
“The moment that Modi touched down in Lahore (and probably even before), something like this was doomed to happen,” said Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.
“At this point, there’s sufficient goodwill in India-Pakistan relations to weather this attack. Saboteurs won’t win this one,” he said.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh said India wanted peace with Pakistan but that any terrorist attack would get “a befitting response”.
Pakistan later condemned the attack and said it wanted to build on the goodwill created in the recent high-level contacts.
“Pakistan remains committed to partner with India as well as other countries in the region to completely eradicate the menace of terrorism,” foreign ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah said in a series of tweets.
“Attacking an air base is a serious security threat. The new strategy of the terrorists is to identify defense bases near the border and launch attacks,” said the home ministry official.