The sheer audacity of Saturday’s terror attack from across the Pakistan border on the Pathankot air base has raised huge question marks about Indian intelligence agencies as well as the roles of the Border Security Force (BSF) and Punjab police. Even as mopping up operations continue at the air base, investigators are probing how a group of 5-6 terrorists could so easily infiltrate the well-guarded Punjab border on Friday morning, remain inside Indian territory for nearly 30 hours while abducting a Punjab police SP and using his official vehicle to pass checkpoints, then penetrate an air base to create mayhem despite being detected from air. The BSF is under the scanner for failing to prevent their infiltration across Pathankot sector adjoining Gurdaspur in Punjab, through the Ravi riverside from Bhawalpur in Pakistan. The Punjab police, responsible for the next layer of security in areas near the border belt, are also being probed for lapses. Reconstruction of the terrorists’ movement indicate that they had previously booked a Toyota Innova car on the Indian side through a call made from a Pakistani number, killed the driver after getting into the car, waited on the road clad in Indian army fatigues, hijacked the car of the Gurdaspur SP, dumped him alive and later his critically injured friend near a village close to the IAF base, passed the entire Friday night somewhere while making phone calls to their handlers in Pakistan with the mobile phone stched from the SP, then breached the high-security perimeter of the air base to launch their attack in the wee hours.
How could terrorists coming from another country move with such impunity across Indian territory, despite intelligence agencies already getting wind of their intention to target a high profile defence target in the area? In the ensuing firefight, the terrorists maged to kill seven Indian security personnel before five of them were gunned down. As late as Sunday evening, a sixth attacker was still suspected to be holed up somewhere inside the IAF base. It is astounding that such a small group of terrorists, suspected to be Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) fidayeen fighters, have inflicted so much damage. The barbed wire fencing and floodlighting of the nearly 460-km intertiol border in Punjab was completed in 1993 and remained impregble for over two decades. But in July last year, a terror strike similar to the one on the Pathankot air base, was launched from roughly the same point across the border at Di gar town of Gurdaspur. A suicide squad of five Pakistani terrorists infiltrated through the Gurdaspur sector, hijacked a car, stormed the Di gar police station and gunned down at least six security personnel including the Gurdaspur SP. It later came to light from the terrorists’ phone GPS details that they had planned to target a defence base too. Two nearly identical cross-border attacks at Gurdaspur within five months have raised fears that sections of the Punjab border has now become porous, through which terrorists are moving at will. Are Pakistani terrorists building up local support on the Indian side, getting food, shelter and logistics help, like smugglers across the border have long been doing?
Security agencies fear that with Punjab caught in the grip of drug addiction among its youth in the past decade, Pakistani terror groups are using the drug smugglers network to launch attacks in the state. Smashing the drug trade will surely help check terror, but the problem is that drug trade is flourishing in Punjab because a section of politicians, bureaucrats and police officials are allegedly involved with it. If this is the situation there despite the well-guarded western border, the country’s totally porous eastern border with Bangladesh is a recipe for disaster on a massive scale. The Upamanyu Hazarika panel’s report to the Supreme Court has painted an alarming picture of the Indo-Bangla border, large sections of which still remain unfenced, unlit and unguarded, through which Bangladeshi infiltrators can come in freely to acquire citizenship and voting rights through an ‘established institutiolised mechanism’. The report has suggested a ‘sterile zone’ along the riverine boundary to check infiltrators from Bangladesh, which is significant in the light of Punjab police sources pointing out that it is difficult to keep proper check of the Ravi riverine belt on the Indo-Pak border. Union Home minister Rajth Singh’s visit to the Karimganj sector of the Indo-Bangla border on Sunday, has therefore not come a day too soon. Commenting that this porous border should have been sealed long time ago, Singh has promised that ‘it will be sealed in 2016’. With jihadi groups continuing their terror campaigns in Bangladesh and using India’s Northeast as a corridor to move freely, the Centre must not allow the weaknesses of the country’s western border to pose a similar threat on its eastern border as well.