Gurdaspur attack: How Punjab Police bravely battled terror
It proved that state forces are equipped to handle enemy strikes if led effectively.
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The Union home ministry and the army commander, Western Command, both offered to deal with the terrorists raining bullets in Gurdaspur. While Rajnath Singh's ministry offered to dispatch National Security Guard (NSG) commandos, the Army was quicker on the draw. Troops with assault rifles, rocket launchers and quick response teams were rushed to Gurdaspur. However, Punjab's Director General of Police Sumedh Singh Saini stood his ground and took charge. These terrorists are for me to get, he is learnt to have told army commander, western command, Lt Gen KJ Singh. Terrorists had struck early during the day and it is still a matter of investigation at exactly what point along the international border the terrorists crossed over into India from Pakistan.
It will not be very difficult to find out since two of the three terrorists carried GPS devices that are currently being examined by experts to locate the coordinates. According to inputs, the infiltrators first tried to stop a tempo which sped away. Around 5.30 in the morning the terrorists then fired at a bus and a street vendor. Nanak Chand, a bus driver, was undeterred by the firing and sped away, saving at least 75 lives. He then drove the bus to the hospital so that the injured could be tended to and reported the terrorist movement to the police.
The terrorists, meanwhile, stopped a Maruti 800 at gunpoint, shot the driver and sped towards the Dina Nagar police station. Here they fired indiscriminately, killing three Punjab home guards at the gate.
One of the sentries picked up an injured cop’s rifle and fired back - forcing the terrorists to change their plan and run into an abandoned building. Baljeet Singh, the superintendent of police (Detectives), and the SHO responded to the attack immediately. The SHO was injured in the first exchange of fire and rushed to the hospital. Baljeet Singh led the counter attack. He deployed himself at the foremost "morcha" opposite the building where the terrorists were holed up. In the retaliatory fire, one terrorist was killed but the terrorists fired at the morcha with barrel grenade launchers, fatally wounding the brave police officer.
This was the time when NSG and Army help was offered to SS Saini. However, he refused. Any other officer would well have palmed off his responsibility to the central forces and let NSG or army deal with Pakistani terrorists. But SS Saini is made of sterner stuff. No terrorist kills my men and gets away with it, he told both the chief minister and the home ministry. He requested the army commander to let the Army maintain outer cordon.
Saini, who has operated extensively under former Punjab supercop KPS Gill, personally went to Gurdaspur and sat inside the same police station to monitor operations. Gill too personally led the war on terror in Punjab and is credited with dealing with the terrorists with an iron fist - a lesson that his protégé learnt well. With the DGP in their midst, the battle hardened Punjab police covered all flanks and hit out at the terrorists. The operation could have been over in 15 minutes - it was an abandoned building. They could have set it on fire and smoked out the terrorists or brought it down. The army had access to flame throwers. But Saini told his officers to try and get at least one alive so that he could be interrogated. The police continued to fire at the terrorists trying to draw them out. The terrorists were extremely well armed, trained and fired with military precision. They had tremendous fire discipline, a Punjab Police officer monitoring the operations told me. By 4pm, it became clear none of the fidayeen were willing to surrender or be taken alive. Though the police made contingency arrangements for generators and flood lights to ensure terrorists didn’t escape under cover of darkness, the aim was to wind up operations before sun down. Take them out, said the DGP in the evening. The police opened up with all they had and soon the threat was neutralised.
Punjab police sources say Saini sent the best signal by not seeking the Army's aid in Punjab, again a lesson well learnt from KPS Gill, post Operation Blue Star. During Operation Black Thunder, the counterterror forces under the ministry of home affairs worked very effectively. In the morning, it was not clear whether these were pro-Khalistan terrorists. Despite indications that these were Pakistan-based terrorists, Saini did not want to take chances and was firmly of the view that the Punjab Police is trained enough to deal with terror of any nature.
There is a very important lesson here for state forces. To deal with terrorists, you do not need central forces - you only need to make your own police strong enough to be able to not just fight, but also defeat terrorists. It may take time, but ultimately the victory will ensure that terrorists think twice before hitting you.
Even in Maharashtra, during the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the brave Vishwas Nagre Patil, then a young ACP kept seeking the then police commissioner late Hasan Gafoor’s permission to take on the Pakistani terrorists holed up at the Taj Hotel. With four terrorists in one room, just one grenade would have hurt struck them and lessened the impact of terror strike. However, he was not given permission.
Initially, terrorists are equally nonplussed about the situation. The police must be trained to hit first and hit hard so that terrorists fail to retaliate. The leadership and bravery of the Punjab Police is for all police forces to follow.