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Protecting borders

India’s premier counter-terror agency, the National Investigative Agency (NIA), filed its chargesheet in the Pathankot airbase attack case on Monday. The document alleges that Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and two other accused – Qashif Jan and Shaid Latif – were involved in the attack. Going by various media reports, the NIA has gathered extensive evidence of the role played by the Pakistan-based terror group. 

For the past year, India has maintained that Azhar was involved in the January 2 attack that killed seven security personnel. His name pops up even in the September 18 Uri attacks, where 19 jawans died. The JeM chief is also wanted for his involvement in a whole host of other terror incidents, including the Parliament attack case and the bomb blast at the Srinagar Assembly in 2001. Beijing has provided no assurances of dropping its resistance to UN sanctions against Pakistan-based terror mastermind Maulana Masood Azhar, who India holds responsible for the attacks in Pathankot and Uri. While the Jaish-e-Mohammed had been listed as a terrorist organisation since 2001, the group’s chief and motivator has suffered no sanctions. 

To the uninitiated, China has been using its power in the United Nations Security Council through a “technical hold” to keep Azhar off the list, a move that is seen as a favour to its ally Pakistan. One of the major points of contention was whether the terrorists infiltrated through the Punjab border. In a direct contradiction to the Border Security Force’s claims, the NIA chargesheet said the terrorists crossed over from near the Simbal border outpost. Authorities in Punjab and the Centre must address the problem of a porous international border and its devastating implications. 

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 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 infiltration. Better technology could prevent infiltration, but 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 to India.  But there are problems on the home front too. Sections of the current ruling establishment in Punjab have been accused of facilitating the drug trade in the state, in collusion with some in the state police and BSF. A Parliamentary committee recently expressed suspicion that the attackers might have taken help from channels and networks used by narcotic syndicates active in the area.
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