New Delhi: It is critical not to lose your head during counterterrorist operations and after. India runs that danger after the Pathankot attack and not least due to media hysteria. The issue must be analyzed on its two basic constituents. These are future relations with Pakistan and combating Pakistani terrorism on Indian soil.

Combating Pakistani terrorism on Indian soil is a long-drawn affair. It must be actively delinked from future relations with Pakistan. The Pathankot counterterrorism operation suffered from profound response deficiencies. Blame cannot be attached to this or that government (law and order is a state subject) but zeroed to system faults.

How did terrorists infiltrate without detection by the Border Security Force? How could they commandeer transport without local police being alerted? Why weren’t security forces prepared for secondary attacks which is SOP for terrorists? Why aren’t military installations impregnable and secured behind cordons sanitaires? Cantonments and air bases lie cheek-by-jowl with civilian population centres. This is inevitable as cities and towns have grown since military facilities were established. A programme of detachment and resiting ought to be undertaken.

Further, counterterrorism operations are successful only when attacks are thwarted. The Union Home Minister is a seasoned politician. He was hasty in claiming success in Pathankot. The fact that terrorists infiltrated constitutes failure. Let us raise the bar. That they killed soldiers and caused mayhem around a fighter base demands introspection and corrective action. Ministers should get off Twitter and other social media in responsive situations. This is no time for publicity-seeking and chest-thumping.

Finally, this writer has always found the Indian system deficient in analysis, intuition and imagination. Without these singular qualities, the system cannot contain terrorism. Intuition is a gift but cultivatable to a degree. The system must be able to get into the mind of the terrorist and foil his action. Groupthink and orthodoxy are no use here. The police mind dominates intelligence and counterintelligence organizations. It is usually incapable of analysis, intuition and imagination. You need lateral thinkers. They are in short supply in this country.

These observations would be wasted on anyone but Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has chosen a sound National Security Advisor who combines dare with ideas and experience. The PM must now move into the sphere of intelligence reforms. The terrorist needs to succeed only once. The state can never fail. This places asymmetric burden on the state to be proactive about counterterrorism. It must do both the conventional in counterterrorism grid management and so forth and the unconventional. Meanwhile, military deficiencies on the border must be made up and commanders given a free hand to retaliate to terrorist infiltration and ceasefire violations. K. P. S. Gill advanced a sound principle for the disposal of terrorists killed.

What about future relations with Pakistan? The Prime Minister’s sudden stopover in Lahore was a welcome departure from institutional diplomacy and gave fillip to the peace process. The Pathankot attack staged by a revived Jaish-e-Mohammed forces a pause and re-evaluation. Not being privy to details, this writer cannot casually suggest a future course. But the desired outcomes do limit choices and argue a line to follow.

Political leaders of both countries must stay engaged. This creates a positive public opinion which puts pressure on hawkish elements within the Pakistan Army and ISI. It turns destructive spotlight on terrorists too. It is not a course to churlishly abandon. It is almost certain that Modi’s dramatic and unplanned meeting with Nawaz Sharief provoked the Pathankot attack. Spurning Pakistan’s elected and moderate leaders would certainly strengthen terrorists in their anti-India purpose.

Future ties with Pakistan are a tightrope walk. Indian public opinion must exercise vigilance and restraint both at the same time. The government must have carefully to determine the scope and employability of the few levers it possesses with Pakistan. There is no silver bullet. It is a painstaking programme where the best minds must meet and think out of the box. Rather like what they did at Bletchley Park to break Enigma. This writer must share a small reminiscence here. Several months prior to Parvez Musharraf’s coup, this writer predicted it in Calcutta’s Sunday magazine. Thankfully, he was not persuaded by Indian Army general staff thinking to the contrary.

Editor’s Note: The Greeks and the Romans kept simple homes and lavished on handsome public edifices of which amphitheatres, theatres, temples, porticos, triumphal arches, baths and aqueducts survive for our pleasurable observance today. Is it too much to ask Indians to embrace this beautiful spirit? Could it in some way be connected with the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan? Indians must bring public aesthetics and cleanliness to the centre of their consciousness.