New tech will not suffice
In light of the recent terror attack on the airbase in Pathankot, the Government of India has decided to introduce better technology to prevent infiltration along the India-Pakistan border. More than 40 vulnerable unfenced stretches along the border will reportedly be covered by laser walls soon, according to officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs. To the uninitiated, a laser wall used to detect objects passing the line of sight between the laser source and the detector. A laser beam over a river sets off a loud siren in case of a breach. At present, merely 5-6 out of the 40 vulnerable points are covered by laser walls. The terrorists are believed to have entered India five kilometres downstream of Bamiyal near the Tash border outpost - a riverine point not covered by a laser wall.
As this column has repeatedly stated, authorities in Punjab and the Centre must initiate measures to strengthen our porous international border with Pakistan. During the years of insurgency in the 1980s, the entire border with Punjab was fenced, with heavy patrolling and constant vigilance by the State police and the Indian armed forces. Such measures had significantly reduced the amount of direct infiltration into the State. Today, however, the fence stands torn by monsoon floods and covered by long tall elephant grass, under which infiltrators receive adequate cover. With laser walls in place, it is safe to assume that a breach would have set alarm bells ringing, leaving our security establishment better prepared to prevent an attempt of infiltration. Essentially, what the recent attack in Pathankot did was to expose the visible lack of preparedness in a sensitive border district.
Although better technology could prevent infiltration, it is not enough. Drug cartels on either side of the border are known to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service. The armed forces have raised their apprehension that these cartels are trading information for safe passage into India. What are worse, certain members of the current ruling establishment in Punjab have been accused of allegedly encouraging the drug trade in the State, in collusion with some State police and paramilitary personnel. In fact, Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh, whose vehicle the terrorists had “hijacked” to get past several police checkposts before the Pathankot attack, was reportedly involved in the drug smuggling business. Salwinder Singh used to get paid in diamonds for every drug consignment smuggled across the border, according to recent reports on his interrogation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Despite the heavy presence of the BSF, heavy consignments of drugs are transported on boats and couriers, under the alleged patronage of State officials. In 2013, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Maninder Singh Aulakh had admitted to police interrogators that state government vehicles were used to run the drug syndicate. Aulakh was nabbed soon after former wrestler-turned-drug peddler Jagdish Singh Bhola was arrested by the Punjab Police on charges of orchestrating a massive drug racket in the state.
In a revelation that sent shockwaves across Punjab, Bhola had named Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikram Majithia, a powerful Minister in the State Government, as one of those involved in the drug trade. Majithia was soon questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in relation to the drug racket. Moreover, another Punjab government Minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur had to resign after his son Damanvir Singh’s name came up during the investigation carried out by the ED into the drug racket.
Although the Punjab Police had reportedly submitted a four-page report to the State government way back in 2007, which contained the names of some highly influential politicians, State police officials and security personnel involved in the drug racket, no action was taken. Punjab, the erstwhile food basket of India, is in the throes of drug addiction. The State is also a key transit point for the drug trade. A study by the Central government claimed that four out of every ten males in the state are addicted to drugs and about half of them are youth and farmers. Even a survey by the Narcotics Control Bureau has stated that a steady supply from across Punjab’s borders is making it next to impossible for state and central agencies to tackle the menace of drug addiction. Despite the mountain of evidence available, it seems that the State has done little to prevent drug smuggling. If the Centre is really serious about preventing infiltration, it must take coercive action against the drug smuggling business in the State. There is no hiding behind that fact.