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Porous border

In a statement in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the three terrorists had infiltrated from Pakistan to carry out the strike in Gurdaspur and asserted that the government will do everything possible to prevent cross-border terrorism. “Any effort by the enemies of our nation to undermine India’s territorial integrity and security or imperil the safety and security of our citizens will meet an effective and forceful response from our security forces,” he said. 

Clearly, this is something easier said than done. Until Friday, there have been two major developments pertaining to the terror incident in Gurdaspur. Media reports over the past week have reported that Indian authorities have found “conclusive” evidence in the form of GPS coordinates, which allegedly proves that the terrorists came from Pakistan. The second development pertains to the news that talks at the National Security Advisor (NSA)-level are going to proceed as scheduled, with “terrorism” on top of the Indian agenda. 

Recent history, however, tells us that the current optimism surrounding the possible outcome of the NSA-level talks are slightly misplaced. Since the Pakistan military establishment is not going to stop its “proxy” war against India anytime soon, all India can do now is firm up its defenses at sensitive border districts. However, what the recent attacks did was to expose the visible lack of preparedness in a sensitive border district like Gurdaspur, especially in a State where the wounds of an ISI-backed domestic insurgency still remain open. At the heart of the attack in Dinanagar, the State Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team was not found to be in possession of even rudimentary protection gear. Moreover, news reports go onto suggest that the local police had to borrow bulletproof vehicles from the armed forces to approach the building under siege.

Strategic experts have commented that the Punjab Police had a strong counter-terrorism force in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as a result of the decade-long insurgency in the State. However, today, all those resources lie crumbled and antiquated. Recent news reports have gone on to suggest that the Centre has downgraded the State in terms of expenditure of security, with a Central initiative for police modernisation left on the wayside. Both the State government and Centre have been caught wrong-footed on the incident, despite repeated warnings from the Intelligence Bureau that Punjab is a “sensitive state”. 

In fact every time a major terror attack takes place on Indian soil, most State governments usually end up blaming the Central dispensation for either inadequate intelligence inputs or a lack of resources to tackle such a law and order situation. The fundamental point remains that our State government are ill-equipped to handle terror attacks on their soil. With the attack in Dinanagar a sign of things to come, one can only hope that authorities on both sides wake up from their deep slumber.
Finally, authorities in both the border State and Centre must address the problem of a porous international border and its devastating implications. During the years of insurgency, 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. Such a scenario, suffice to say, leads to constant slackness and oversight in surveillance. Moreover, drug cartels on either side of the border are known to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service. Certain members of the armed forces have raised apprehensions that these cartels are trading information for safe passage into Pakistan. What is 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 Punjab police and paramilitary personnel. Last year, the Border Security Force recovered a record 361 kg of heroin, mainly of Afghan origin, along the India-Pakistan border in Punjab. Rajnath Singh’s bold claims of an “effective response” to terror, therefore, seem rather misplaced under circumstances of dire unpreparedness.  
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