South Asia Center Director Bharath Gopalaswamy and South Asia Center Nonresident Fellow Vasundhara Sirnate write for The Hindu on terrorist attacks on major population centers, including the Pathankot attacks in India:
In the last 15 years, several major cities have come under attack — New York (2001), London (2005), Mumbai (2008), Boston (2013), Peshawar (2014) and Paris (2015). In the first week of 2016 alone, terrorists have struck Kabul, Pathankot, Tel Aviv, and various locations in Iraq. These incidents have flagged the limits of the operational capacities of intelligence agencies worldwide, and have demonstrated that terrorist group behaviour is unpredictable.
Take the Pathankot attacks. The Indian Army intercepted key phone calls a day before the attacks, and readied a plan (however flawed). Even so, it took several days for the security forces to control the situation. The Pathankot case demonstrates that even when a country has actionable intelligence, controlling a terrorist threat requires better coordination, decision-making and presence of mind. Having said this, it is still the case that many terrorist attacks are averted by intelligence agencies. As the Irish Republican Army said in 1984 after the failed Brighton bombing, the purpose of which was to assassinate Margaret Thatcher, “Today we were unlucky. But remember we only have to be lucky once, you [the state] will have to be lucky always.”