Monday, July 27, 2015

The Dinanagar Terror Attack: What it Portends

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

At the time of writing this analysis of the terror attack in Dinanagar town of Punjab, the operation to flush out and finish the terrorists holed up in a police station is still going on. As a result, there is only sketchy information available on the basis of which some sense has to be made of what is happening, why it is happening and what it portends for the future. Until now it is not clear who these terrorists are and where they have come from. Did they infiltrate from the Jammu border side, in which case how did they travel all the way to Dinanagar? Did they infiltrate from the Punjab border side? Are they Pakistani Punjabi jihadis or are they Kashmiri militants or are they Khalistani terrorists? Did these terrorists even infiltrate from across the border or are they part of some terror group cell which has been activated inside India and therefore did not need to cross the border to strike in India? The honest answer is that we don’t know as yet.

Was their aim to target the Amarnath Yatra, as is the speculation in some quarters, and that they lost their way and entered Punjab? This theory sounds a little far-fetched because unless the Pakistanis are now so desperate that they are sending in people without any preparation or training, it is unlikely that people would have crossed the border without having received a detailed briefing on where they have to go and how to reach there. What is more plausible is that the terrorists deliberately launched an attack in Punjab instead of Jammu and Kashmir. This is perhaps the most critical aspect of this attack because this means that the theatre of terrorism is now being sought to be expanded beyond just Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, even in Jammu and Kashmir there have been more attacks by Pakistani-based terrorists in Jammu than in Kashmir where the attacks have generally believed to have been carried out by local terrorists instead of Pakistani terrorists. Therefore, regardless of whether or not there is a Khalistani angle to the attack, there appears to be a sinister design in expanding the area of terrorist attacks.

It is also important to remember that these terrorists were not on a ‘hit-and-run’ mission but on an ‘hit-hold-and-die’ mission. This means that there aim wasn’t to attack a target and then escape but to wantonly kill whoever comes in their way and then target a government building by entering it and holding off the counter offensive for as long as possible before finally dying at the hands of the security forces. Normally, the idea behind such operations is to gain maximum mileage by creating a tehalka. To do this, however, they didn’t need to specifically enter Punjab. If they had done the same operation in any part of Jammu and Kashmir, even in some obscure small town of that state, they would have created the same tehelka. The fact that they entered Punjab was to deliver a message and the discovery of the bombs planted on the railway tracks on the same day as the Dinanagar attack only reaffirms that this is part of a bigger plot and not a case of some terrorists having lost their way.

But why Punjab? The reason is that there is a clear effort by the Pakistanis to resuscitate the Khalistan movement. For months now, the Pakistani intelligence has been actively trying to revive the moribund Khalistani elements in London, Canada and the US – in the last two mentioned places, Khalistanis held protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visits. In the UK, 
Khalistanis have been holding demonstrations and protests and making representations to the British Parliament. These terror group operatives are being put up to this and being funded by the Pakistanis. Worse, the events in Jammu in June when Khalistani sympathisers came out on the streets to protest against the pulling down of some Bhindranwale posters was an intimation of what has been brewing for some time. The security agencies were clearly taken by surprise at the discovery of this reservoir of pro-Khalistan sentiment in Jammu.

After having broken the back of the Khalistani movement in the mid 1990s, it appears that the security agencies – police in particular but also the intelligence agencies – have taken their eye of the ball of Khalistani terrorism. The dictum that ‘eternal vigilance is the price of freedom and stability’ has been forgotten because it was assumed that the Khalistani movement has been decimated and cannot be revived. But during a visit to Pakistan in 2003-04 a very well connected Pakistani newspaper editor informed me that the ISI was constantly making efforts to keep the Khalistani movement alive but were not getting much traction. Perhaps this is why even the Indian security agencies became lax. In the process what they lost sight of was the fact that even though there weren’t many takers for Khalistan, the Pakistanis were continuing to stir the pot and unless a close vigil was kept on potential troublemakers, there was a chance that things could once again go out of control in Punjab. It is in this context that the Dinanagar attack has to be seen as an intimation of a coming storm, which can still be prevented if necessary steps are taken.

The first thing that the state and central government must do is to crackdown on the narcotics trade in Punjab. Not only has an entire generation of Punjab youth been destroyed by the drugs trade but the state itself is acquiring the reputation of becoming a narco-state what with ministers, officials and even relatives of the Chief Minister being accused of involvement in the narcotics trade. Given the close linkage between narcotics trade and terrorism, the eradication of this menace must become a priority for the government. The second thing to do is to end the ambivalence and the soft-peddling of Khalistan sympathisers by the state government. This sort of political pandering to separatists only creates a fertile ground for them. Thirdly, border management and control must be beefed up. The fencing along the border has worked up to a point but new systems need to be put in place to stop the flow of drugs and terrorists into Punjab. For this, officials on the spot must be made accountable for any such activity in their area of responsibility. Fourth, the intelligence network in Punjab must be beefed up so that the plant of terrorism can be nipped in the bud. Alongside, the central intelligence agencies must also not take their eye off Khalistani groups and must have close coordination and intelligence sharing with their colleagues in Punjab. Fifth, the Punjab Police had developed good anti-terror capabilities in the past and these need to be kept in fine fettle. It is creditable that the Punjab government decided to use the Punjab Police and not the Army or NSG to conduct the flushing out operations. This is the Police’s job and other state police forces should be encouraged, nay forced, to develop similar capabilities. The Army should back up the police in such operations but these operations should be carried out by the police.

Finally, a word in appreciation of the sacrifice made by the Punjab Police SP, Baljeet Singh, who upheld the finest traditions of the Punjab Police and of Sikhism by leading his force from the front and making the supreme sacrifice in the service of his country.

Published Date: 27th July 2015, Image Source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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