Why did Pakistan choose to strike in Punjab?

With security tightened up along LoC, the riverine neighbourhood along river Ravi has become ideal site to allow terrorists crossing over.

 |  4-minute read |   28-07-2015
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The tranquil day break of July 27, was shattered in the wee hours of the morning, when three Pakistan-based terrorists, attacked Dinanagar police station in the Gurdaspur district of Punjab. This is not the first terrorist strike in the vicinity of the border with Pakistan. The last two years have witnessed similar attacks against police and army camps as well as civilian targets in Hiranagar, Samba and Kathua. However, this attack is different from the previous ones in a number of ways, which indicates a clear attempt by Pakistan to up the ante against India, by shifting gears of its ongoing proxy war.

First, the attack was carefully planned and executed beyond the boundary of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), unlike the previous strikes during the past two years. Second, unlike previous attempts, a more deliberate attempt had been made to delink Pakistan's direct involvement with terrorists by obliterating connecting trails like currency notes, papers, diaries, match boxes and labelled food packets. Third, the terrorists did not only undertake the strike against a police station, they also placed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along the railway track, which was a clear attempt at maximising casualties and creating sensationalism. This was also reinforced by their failed attempt to stop a bus, which if successful would have undoubtedly caused a national outrage. Fourth, the strike witnessed a commendable operation by the state police, which successfully neutralised the terrorist attack, despite the presence of the army in the area. This is a clear indication of its conviction, despite inadequate capacity for such threats.

What stands out amongst all these shifts from the past are two aspects that deserve further deliberation. First, is the obvious question that is repeatedly being asked: Why Punjab? While it is difficult to give a definitive answer to the question at this stage, possible reasons can be put forth. The past trends in infiltration attempts in J&K, indicate a steady shift from the line of control (LoC) to the international border (IB), as a result of the effective counter infiltration grid along the LoC. Over a period of time, successful infiltration along the IB sector in J&K, has also led to strengthening of border deployment. This has made infiltration that much more difficult. The riverine neighbourhood of Punjab and especially the area chosen for infiltration is characterised by ideal crossing places in the vicinity of river Ravi and its tributaries. The limitations imposed by these geographical conditions, coupled by border deployment, which has not been tested as is the case in J&K, made crossings that much easier to execute, especially by trained and motivated terrorists.

Criminal gangs and drug traffickers have successfully exploited the IB along Punjab in the past. These groups have been transferring composite packages to include counterfeit currency, drugs and weapons into India. It is likely that these linkages have been exploited for identifying vulnerabilities and gaps by Pakistan to push in the terrorists.

Possibly the most important factor is the renewed confidence of the Pakistani Army top brass in its ability to retain conventional deterrence against India, which had received a setback in the past, when the threat of a limited, proactive offensive was a distinct possibility. However, by 2012-13, the Pakistani security establishment through the Azm-e-Nau (New Resolve) series of exercises, had according to Pakistani analysts, partially neutralised India's potential advantage. This was accompanied by the testing of Nasr, a tactical nuclear weapon delivery missile, which could undertake strikes, as part of the first use doctrine, even against shallow offensive thrusts by India inside Pakistan. From Pakistan's perspective, this virtually ensured that they were yet again free to implement their policy of destabilising India with renewed vigour, without worrying about the possible fallout in terms of a conventional strike. This condition has further been augmented by improving relations with Afghanistan, relative stabilisation of internal security challenges and greater influence over US policy in the AfPak region, thereby strengthening the army.

All these factors have emboldened Pakistan in an attempt to push the threshold level of terrorism against India, simultaneously testing its resolve and possible options. This can also be seen from increasing levels of violence inside J&K since the last two years and ceasefire violations along the LoC and IB sectors. The Pakistan Army has also limited the manoeuvre space of the democratically elected government in the process, thereby constraining any attempt towards normalisation of relations in the foreseeable future.

The second question relates to the reaction of the state police to the terror strike. Under ideal conditions, prior intelligence and the ability to stop the infiltration on the border could have averted the seven fatal casualties. However, despite best efforts, there are bound to be occasional breaches along the border, in the face of determined fidayeen attempts. Under such conditions, the best defence against such assaults is the state police force, as the Punjab Police has displayed. The SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams put into action clearly displayed the ability to quarantine the damage and ultimately neutralise the threat effectively. This is one example that can be implemented by all states and especially those in vicinity of the border with Pakistan.

However, this does not take away from crisis management limitations observed during the incident, which could have been managed better, especially in terms of crowd control, media coverage and basic field craft of supporting police personnel.

Writer

Colonel Vivek Chadha Colonel Vivek Chadha

Colonel Vivek Chadha (Retd) is a research fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses and author of Lifeblood of Terrorism: Countering Terrorism Finance.

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