The successful operation by Punjab Police's SWAT commandoes, trained by Israeli soldiers in their first test by fire, has given them the deserved recognition. Their encounter with Pakistan-trained terrorists lasted nearly 12 hours at Dinanagar, the longest since the Mumbai terrorist attack, and the security forces displayed how quickly they could scramble for an unexpected encounter in a small Punjab town.
The credit, however, also goes to two bravehearts who had no formal training and little anticipation of such a situation; who prevented a bloodbath which could have triggered a major reaction. The two unlikely heroes were 47-year-old Nanak Chand, a Punjab Roadways bus driver, and 42-year-old Ashwani Saini, a railway trackman. Together they averted major tragedies before the terrorists entered the Dinanagar police station.
It is clear from the chain of events that the terrorists, dressed in olive green uniforms donned by the Army personnel, had flagged down the Punjab Roadways bus around 5.30am to hijack it and eventually kill all its passengers. The brutality they displayed in killing a dhaba owner and firing indiscriminately outside and inside the police station leaves no doubt about what the likely fate of the 70-odd passengers in the bus could have been.
Their saviour was the middle-aged driver, who, incidentally, is a contract employee of the roadways. Chand smelt a rat when he saw "army personnel" waving for the bus to stop. What aroused his suspicion were the gun totting "faujis" who had covered their faces with black cloth.
Instead of pushing the brake, he accelerated the bus while carefully avoiding hitting against the roadside or trees. The terrorists, however, opened fire at the bus, causing injuries to some of the passengers. However, Nanak Chand did not stop till he reached a hospital at Gurdaspur, had the injured admitted, and later rushed to inform the police of a possible terror attack. He thus helped avoid a major bloodbath.
He later said that it all happened in a flash. "Death was staring at me and perhaps my survival instincts took over," he said, as grateful passengers thanked him profusely for saving their lives.
The other hero, railway trackman Ashwani Saini did something that one can only find in fiction. While patrolling on the railway track between Dinanagar and Jhakholari railway stations, he noticed live bombs attached to a railway bridge. He was quick to react, and in the absence of a communication system with him, he began running along the tracks on which a train was expected to arrive in a few minutes and waved a red cloth vigorously to attract the driver's attention. This helped the driver of the Amritsar-bound passenger apply the brakes in time to avert a disaster - he managed to stop the train only a hundred yards from the bridge. The train with seven coaches had begun its journey from the Pathankot station at 5.10am and the bridge over which the bombs were tied was barely two kilometres from Dinanagar. It was later found that at least 270 passengers were on the train. A possible blast and derailment could have inflicted heavy damage. This, together with the possible massacre of bus passengers, could have led to one of the most tragic terror attacks in the region.
Both the bravehearts deserve all the commendations and awards, besides the gratitude of the nation and the families who were saved by their timely intervention.