Why Punjab is to blame for Gurdaspur terror attack

Vipin Pubby
Vipin PubbyAug 04, 2015 | 17:04

Why Punjab is to blame for Gurdaspur terror attack

The July 27 terrorist attack at Dinanagar near Gurdaspur, which could have led to a bigger disaster if a bus driver and railway employees were not alert enough, is a wake up call for the security agencies in Punjab which had adopted a smug attitude after a peaceful couple of decades.

Jammu and Kashmir has continued to be the target of terrorists from across the border over the years with as many as five attempts to infiltrate during the last one month alone. Four of these attempts were interdicted and eight terrorists neutralised, according to a statement by Union home minister Rajnath Singh in Rajya Sabha last week.

Security forces had not only stepped up patrolling in the sensitive sectors, but the deployment of the Border Security Force (BSF), the Rashtriya Rifles and the regular Army after every half-a-kilometre or so along the border had made it tough for the terrorists to sneak in. The international border along Punjab is also well fortified with high concertina coil fencing, but the weakest points are where river Ravi crosses the border. The points become all the more vulnerable during monsoon when seasonal rivulets also enable easy access across the border.

Given the intense patrolling in the Jammu region, partly because of the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be fond of the region, paying nearly half a dozen visits since he took over, the terrorists found an easier way to infiltrate into Punjab from the eastern bank of the Ravi. Dinanagar, the main target of the attack is less than 15 kilometres from the border and closer to the critical national highway connecting Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country. Although initial reports speculated that the terrorists may have wanted to reach the national highway to target Amarnath yatris, subsequent investigations showed that they were planning to turn west, enter Gurdaspur town and reach some of the sensitive areas like the Civil Lines. This information was established after studying the coordinates found on two GPS sets recovered from the three slain terrorists. The pre-fed coordinates also established that they had come from Pakistan's Bamiyal area and had crossed the border near Tash in Gurdaspur district where the Ravi enters Pakistan.

It was also established through the GPS sets that the terrorists had planted five improvised explosive devices (IEDs) two kilometres from Dinanagar. Fortunately these were first detected by some villagers who alerted the railway staff and train movement was stopped on the route till they were defused. The terrorists, who were dressed in army fatigue, later tried to hijack a Punjab Roadways bus but an alert driver, Nanak Chand, smelled a rat because the "faujis" had covered their face with black cloth. The 70-odd passengers had a providential escape as the intentions of the terrorists, which were amply proved later, was to eliminate all those who came in contact with them. The casualty figure could have been over 350 if the terrorists had succeeded in their attempts to blow up a train and hijack the bus.

Their easy entry into virtually unguarded Dinanagar police station has exposed the lax and smug attitude which the Punjab Police had been lulled into owing to a peaceful couple of decades which followed a bloody 15-year agitation for Khalistan. The entry to police stations and other security establishments had been relaxed and no one had anticipated that such an attack could take place.

However, as the GPS coordinates confirmed, the target of the terrorists was Punjab and not Jammu and Kashmir this time round. This could be partly owing to their strategy to widen the arc of their target areas to further stretch the resources of the security forces. Also, there could be a motive to destabilise the peace in Punjab.

Although there are no clues by way of slogan-shouting or flags or pamphlets, which could have pointed to the involvement of Khalistani terrorists or their sympathisers in the latest attack, a mischievous attempt to vitiate the peaceful atmosphere of Punjab indeed cannot be totally ruled out. The ultimate target of the terrorists to reach Gurdaspur is an indication that they were not aiming at fomenting trouble in Jammu and Kashmir.

This incident, if seen in conjunction with the attempts to revive the demand for Khalistan, could point to a more sinister design behind the attack. Even as a section of NRIs are reportedly stepping up their efforts to reignite the flames in India, 83-year Surat Singh Khalsa is currently on an indefinite fast to demand the release of Sikh prisoners who had completed their terms. However, according to the Supreme Court's ruling, those prisoners who are convicted for terrorism and other heinous crimes cannot be given remission and have to serve their entire life in jail if they were handed life imprisonment.

Another indication of the militants and their supporters getting active is the demand to shift Sikh prisoners to Punjab. The state government has recently helped in getting two of these, including Devinder Singh Bhullar, to Punjab. The reception they got from a section of the supporters of Khalistan on their arrival in the state was an indication that the demand is still brewing and a little shove may disturb the hard-earned peace in Punjab. Recently even the Union home ministry had sent an advisory to the state government to keep alert and guard itself from attempts to revive militancy in the state. The Punjab Police has to learn the lesson that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.

Last updated: August 04, 2015 | 17:04
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