Booby-trap checks at Indian airbase

NEW DELHI • Indian security forces were working to carefully defuse grenades in the final stages of an operation to secure a vast airbase near the border with Pakistan, two days after a militant attack killed seven military personnel and wounded 22.

The attack threatens to undermine a tentative thaw in relations with Pakistan, as India mulls its options on whether to go ahead with foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan scheduled for Jan 15.

Indian newspaper The Hindu also reported that the Kashmir- based militant group United Jihad Council (UJC) had claimed responsibility for the attack on the airbase.

The UJC is an alliance of militant Kashmiri groups which operate from Pakistan-held territory.

A government official who requested anonymity said yesterday that a decision on whether to hold the talks is expected to be taken after the operation at Pathankot, in Punjab state, is completed.

“A total of six terrorists have been killed, but every inch of the airbase has to be secured before we call off the operation,” said a senior federal government official, who requested anonymity.

Indian army spokesman Manish Mehta said the military was working at a “very fast pace” to defuse live hand grenades and gather the remains of the militants.

A soldier from India’s counter- terrorism force, the National Security Guard, was killed by a grenade on Saturday as he lifted the body of one dead attacker, prompting caution in work to clear the area of possible booby traps.

Officials said that the attack bore the hallmarks of previous suspected assaults by Pakistan- based militant groups, underscoring the fragility of recent efforts to revive bilateral talks between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

REUTERS