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Surprised at Gurdaspur
(An edited version of this article was published in The Indian Express, July 30, 2015)

There is great excitement in the media over two aspects of the Dinanagar terrorist strike: one, that hard evidence in the form of GPS coordinates proves the terrorists came from Pakistan, and that they were in possession of night vision devices with US Government markings; two, that NSA level talks are going to proceed as scheduled, but ‘terrorism’ is going to be on top of the Indian agenda of discussions.

These are far from the many and urgent issues that are raised by this attack. An investigation is ongoing, and it will certainly uncover significant evidence over time. There should be little doubt that this evidence will point overwhelmingly to Pakistan as the source of this attack. There should be little doubt, equally, that this doesn’t matter in the least. Pakistan has engaged in terrorist proxy war against India for more than 30 years; the cumulative evidence of this criminal enterprise is overwhelming and has been shared with the world; significant elements of this evidence have been periodically handed over to Pakistan as well; none of this has had any impact. Confronting Pakistan with evidence is tantamount to giving proof of guilt to a criminal and asking him to punish himself. The terrorists are instrumentalities of the Pakistani state, and the Pakistani state has repeatedly and unambiguously demonstrated its determination to protect them on its soil. As regards providing evidence to the so called ‘international community’ and hoping that they will ‘do something’, this is again, futile and foolish. No country in the world is concerned about the India-Pakistan conflict, except where its own national interests may overlap; and no one, certainly, is going to fight our battles for us. India will have to learn to effectively defend itself, its own soil and its people; or it will continue to suffer the relentless attrition of Pakistan’s ‘war of a thousand cuts’.

As regards ‘talks’, this is an ongoing charade which will lead nowhere. Great hope is being invested in the NSA level talks – but what results have the very recent discussions between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif produced? There have been talks, and the disruption of talks, for decades, with little consequence. These are, at best, harmless pastimes that allow some people to posture on what they think of as the ‘world stage’; at worst, they legitimize Pakistan, telling the world that this is a rational, and not rogue, state, engaged in ‘peaceful negotiations’ to resolve ‘outstanding issues’ with India, even while Islamabad continues to provide open support to terrorism.

There are other issues that are far more important. The most significant of these is the degree of visible unpreparedness in a sensitive border District like Gurdaspur, in a State that has itself experienced over 13 years of the most virulent terrorism, and that adjoins another State that is still the target of a 26 year old Pakistan-backed proxy war. J&K Districts abutting Gurdaspur have seen repeated and major terrorist attacks; at least a few of these have, over the years, ‘overflowed’ into Punjab, and specifically, into Gurdaspur.

Not even the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team was wearing even rudimentary protection at Dinanagar; and Superintendent of Police Baljeet Singh, who died of head injuries, was obviously not wearing any protective headgear. And yet, confronted by media comments regarding the glaring deficits in the Police Force that were seen at Dinanagar, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal rather lackadaisically declared, “Such an incident has happened after 15-16 years.” This is a stark index of the political mindset in this country; unless a crisis is immediately at hand, institutions are simply pushed into degeneration and decay, robbed of resources, deeply politicized, or simply, allowed to deteriorate through sheer neglect.

It is useful to recall, here, that the Punjab Police had been forged, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, into an efficient and fully equipped counter-terrorism Force, with each thana provided adequate capacities – protection, transport, weapons and the limited technological tools then available – to respond to any challenge within its jurisdiction. Clearly, all these systems have crumbled, and, were it not for the attitudes and courage of those who fought terrorism at its peak, and who still serve in the Police, the State’s capacity of response would now have been virtually non-existent.

Indeed, even in crisis, security forces face an uphill battle in securing the most basic resources and capacities of response, and politicians are not the only obstacle. The civilian bureaucracy has been one of the most obstructive entities in this regard, and I recall, during the peak of terrorism in Punjab, I was in constant and abrasive confrontation with the Secretariat at Chandigarh and in New Delhi. Confronted by continuous ambushes and attacks, we repeatedly asked for bullet proof vehicles, but received no response. So we went ahead and improvised; some old and condemned Ambassadors were recovered and bullet proofed, and were found to be extremely successful. After this, we started bullet-proofing Gypsies, and, at one phase, even tractors, with each initiative resulting in quantum gains in CT capabilities. At one stage, the DRDO offered some utterly unsuitable options. Later, audit objections were raised against our efforts. We were bullet proofing our vehicles for less than Rs. two lakhs, but were subsequently forced to buy them for over Rs. six lakhs. This is the genius of the bureaucracy.

Significantly, at Dinanagar, the Police had to borrow BP vehicles from the Army to approach the building under siege.

Again, when the Khalistanis got the AK-47 from Pakistan, the Punjab Police was still stuck with antiquated .303 bolt-action rifles. When we asked for comparable firepower, there was uniform opposition from the bureaucracy. One Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs wrote that no such weapon should be given to a ‘civil force’. Later, some bureaucrat drafted a speech for the then Chief Minister, that the weapons that were given “should not be used against the people”. This was ludicrous, and, fortunately, the Chief Minister deleted the line. There was a misconception that such weapons could be used to quell protests and demonstration, without realizing that not every policeman was going to be issued an AK rifle. There were numberless such cases of ignorant obduracy. The situation in ‘peacetime’ can only be worse.

What is not realized is that you don’t prepare for terrorism after it has happened. You must be prepared at all times. And you don’t just learn from your own experience, or react to challenges when they confront you. States across India have been attacked by Islamist terrorists; yet, each State is caught by surprise and pleads that the ‘Centre had not provided intelligence’ or ‘resources’. As if State Governments have no responsibility. And when the Centre asks for any dilution of the Constitutional allocation of ‘law and order’ to the jurisdiction of the States, there are (rightly) shrill protestations from all Chief Ministers.

The entire Punjab border with Pakistan was fenced off during the terrorism years. Heavy patrolling and constant vigilance reduced direct infiltration to an easily manageable trickle. But today, while the fence still stands, there is increasing laxity in surveillance and oversight. Deep political patronage has sought to facilitate drug trafficking and smuggling of other contraband, and this has resulted in the regular movement of materials and men across this sensitive frontier, substantially with the collusion of some Police and Paramilitary personnel.

The Centre must also share at least some of the blame. Punjab has been downgraded in terms of support for expenditure on security, and the central scheme for Police modernisation has also been scrapped by the Modi regime. This is despite the fact that the Intelligence Bureau is constantly issuing warnings that Punjab is a ‘sensitive state’, and that there are sustained terrorist threats directed against it.

A detailed analysis of the many problems of security in Punjab is not possible here. It is necessary, however, to emphasise that Dinanagar is just a sign of threats to come. The regional and global environment is deeply troubling, and Punjab is a frontline State. It is crucial that the counterterrorism capacities of the Punjab Police be restored. All Police stations along the international border, in particular, need to be strengthened on a war footing, with the full range of resources – fortification, personnel, training, weaponry, transport, communications, and a sufficient apparatus for intelligence gathering and dissemination. Crucially, the issue of morale also needs to be addressed. While public agitations, supported by the ruling dispensation in Punjab, are orchestrated for the transfer to Punjab of Khalistani terrorists in different jails across the country, no attention is paid to the fact that dozens of Police officers and men who fought terrorism at its peak continue to languish in jails, and many others are still facing interminable and mischievous prosecution.

There are proliferating threats of a global Islamist terrorism today, and the perverse policies that both the Centre and the States in India are pursuing with regard to counter-terrorism make the country increasingly vulnerable to these. It is high time that concerned citizens, the media and elements in the political constituency who have the national interest at heart, make a concerted effort to bring substantive issues of counterterrorism policy, strategy and tactics to the fore, instead of wasting efforts on high decibel nothings.

K.P.S. Gill
"The writer, former DGP, Punjab, is president, Institute for Conflict Management, and publisher, 'South Asia Intelligence Review'"






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