The weeks preceding the 69th Independence Day witnessed two incidences of cross border terrorism which have thrown up serious concerns about the state of internal security in India and of the approach we need to take against an intransigent neighbour which uses terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.
In the early hours of 27 July, a restaurant owner in Dinanagar became the first victim of terrorism in Punjab in over a decade. While reversing his Maruti 800 car to go to the vegetable market, he was accosted by three men dressed in army fatigues who threw him out of the car after shooting at him, injuring him severely. They then commandeered the car, firing at civilians on the way till they reached the Dinanagar police station at 5.15 a.m.. Entering the compound, they fired at the policemen and then moved to the barrack behind the police station where some policemen were sleeping, killing three of them. By this time, the police had cordoned off the area and after a prolonged operation, all three terrorists were eliminated.
Close on the heels of the above incident, a BSF convoy was fired upon by two terrorists on 5 August, a few kilometres from Udhampur, killing two BSF personnel and injuring a few more. The BSF quickly retaliated and eliminated one of the terrorists. The other ran off into the hillside but was apprehended and is now in police custody. Interrogation of the individual has confirmed that he is a Pakistani national.
The twin attacks, one in Punjab and the other in Jammu district are a cause of concern. The attack in Punjab points to deliberate attempts being made to stoke militancy in the state. This is not a new ploy, but had been put on the back burner by the Pakistani minders of terrorist groups as it had little traction. There appears to be an attempt now to revive Sikh militancy in the state. It remains a cherished aim of Pakistani intelligence to foment a revolt by the Sikhs against the Indian state. To this end, even Sikh prisoners of war were specially targeted in both the 1965 and 1971 Indo Pak wars by Pakistani intelligence officials in an effort to wean away their loyalty, but much to Pakistan’s chagrin, such efforts were soundly rebuffed. With Kashmir limping towards normalcy, we are likely to see more such attacks to create a fear psychosis in the border towns in conjunction with attempts to revive the Khalistan movement.
Udhampur district too had been free of terrorist violence for over a decade. The latest attack on the BSF convoy points to efforts being made by Pakistan to open a new front. There appears to be a change in strategy, as infiltration is becoming increasingly difficult due to effective border sealing by the Army. Also, their is a yearning for peace in the Valley, and the terrorists are not getting the type of support that they received in earlier years. With political parties increasingly being perceived as representing the will of the people, the space for terrorists and their supporters is shrinking. This could perhaps be one of the reasons for the terrorist minders in Pakistan to target new areas, in an effort at widening the conflict.
What is now required is a doctrinal approach to handling instances of cross border terrorism. Eliminating the militants is necessary but this remains a containment strategy, with heavy costs to India and with practically no costs on Pakistan. There must, therefore, be an element of pain inflicted on the Pakistan military, if cross border terrorism is to be curtailed. This could lead to escalation which would have to be catered for, but at each escalatory level, the costs to Pakistan must rise dramatically, forcing them to mend their ways.
An analysis of the actions carried out by these two terrorist modules indicates high standards of motivation but relatively poor skill levels. These terrorists did not appear to be well trained, which itself throws up another host of questions. Were these just guinea pigs, sent in to test the waters, before the real lot are unleashed on India? The answers as of now are not forthcoming. In any case, security measures across the country need to be enhanced. The police forces also need to get their act together. While all the three terrorists were eliminated by the Punjab police, video grabs of the police action did not inspire much confidence. Proper training, proper equipment for police forces and timely intelligence must remain the mantra for effective counter terrorist operations.