Chandigarh: Is militancy from across the border on the rise in Punjab? For the second time in five months, armed terrorists from across the border entered the state through Gurdaspur on Friday and attacked the Pathankot Air Force base.
Five militants and three jawans were killed in the incident that followed the carjacking of Punjab Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police (SP), Salwinder Singh, and his two acquaintances a day earlier, after which Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts were put on high alert.
The modus operandi was almost similar to an earlier terror strike in Dina Nagar town of Gurdaspur in July. On 25 July, a team of five terrorists had entered Dina Nagar. Just before dawn on Monday (27 July), five of them hijacked a white Maruti car at gunpoint, fired at people at a bus stand and stormed a police station, killing at least six persons, including the Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police.
Two incidents within five months raise fears that the border Gurdaspur may have become porous fro militants from Pakistan.
As pointed out by Firstpost after the terror attack in July, for almost two decades, the nearly 460-km international border in Punjab was considered impregnable because of barbed fence and floodlights. Since 1993, when fencing was completed by India, there had been not a single incident of cross-border terrorism in Punjab.
The closest the terrorists had come to Punjab before this was in 2014, when a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorist was held at Chakki Bank railway station in Pathankot. The same year, a letter was sent by the Lashkar-e-Taiba to the station superintendent of Pathankot warning of attacks on the Punjab chief minister and his deputy.
Talking to Firstpost, Shashi Kant, former Director General of Punjab Police (DGP), said the Gurdaspur region is becoming porous. "This is a very serious issue because we are giving a chance to the militants to enter India. In both the incidents in Gurdaspur, the militants crossed over from Bahawalpur in Pakistan through the riverside to enter India. While the rest of the India-Pakistan border is wired and sealed and protected, it is not possible to do so in some region of Gurdaspur bordering Pakistan because of the Ravi riverine belt. The border force also finds it difficult to keep proper check on the area," he said.
Intelligence sources admitted Gurdaspur's geography makes it vulnerable. Being the northernmost district of Punjab, the area lies between river Ravi and Beas and is very close to the international border, which is just 10 km from Pakistan. Militants find it easy to smuggle drugs from the region and also enter into India to move to other sensitive places in the country, sources said.
Kant said if reports of militants involved in the two incidents having crossed over several hours before striking are true, they suggest sleeper cells active in the border areas give shelter and food and perhaps even to the militants.
Kant, who had headed departments of prisons and intelligence for several years, said there is a link between militancy and drug trade in Punjab. "Drug money is used in financing militancy. To check militancy we will also have to control the drug problem. But the trade is flourishing because of the alleged involvement of politicians, bureaucrats and police officers," he said.
Talking to Firstpost, AAP leader and Patiala MP, Dharamvir Gandhi, said such laxity in defending the border was a matter of great concern. "This is the second incident in six months. In Gurdaspur, the militants have found a soft target. Pathankot is a strategic air force base. There should have been more security in the region to check any infiltration," the parliamentarian said.
"If some part of the border is porous we have to check it. If this situation continues there may be more attacks through Gurdaspur in future," Gandhi said.
Manjit Singh of Swaraj Andolan, Punjab condemned the attack and said India will have to be more vigilant. "Only the military and the intelligence will be able to say from which area the militants had entered Gurdaspur," "Singh told Firstpost.