A Kashmir-based militant coalition, the United Jihad Council, claimed responsibility for an attack on the Indian air force base at Pathankot, which has left five militants and seven soldiers dead in three days of fighting. The attack on Pathankot—in northern Punjab state, near the borders with both Jammu & Kashmir state and Pakistan—is seen as an attempt to derail recent peace moves by India and Pakistan. The attack came about a week after a surprise visit by India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif—the first Islamabad visit by an Indian premier in 12 years.
In a statement, UJC spokesman Syed Sadaqat Hussain said the attack was carried out by the group's "National Highway Squad," a heretofore unknown unit. The UJC is led by Mohammad Salahuddin, also leader of the Hezbul Mujahedeen group, the largest in the alliance. Also prominent among the 13 member organizations is Lashkar-e-Taiba. The leadership of most of the member groups is based in Pakistan, and they have been largely dormant since the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto boundary dividing Kashmir.
Hussain's statement emphasized the UJC's supposed independence from Islamabad. "Pakistan has nothing to do with the attack but ironically the Indian government, media and their armed forces are suffering from Pakistan phobia," he said. "It would be better for the Indian leadership to read the writing on the wall and let the Kashmiri people decide thier fate on their own free accord, without further waste of time."
However, an anonymous Indian intelligence source told NDTV that the statement could be aimed at diverting attention from the real perpetrators of the attack, believed to be the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed. "The statement may well be an attempt to indigenize the attack to highlight the Kashmir issue," the source said. (BBC News, The Hindu, NDTV, India, Dawn, Pakistan, Jan. 4)