Bid to kill Indo-Pak peace effort?

S Madhusudhana Rao

The deadly Gurdaspur terrorist attack in Punjab on Monday that claimed 10 lives, including that of three gunmen, was another re-run of such bloody incidents that took place earlier in areas bordering Pakistan. Under the cover of darkness, militants, most of the time trained by Pak intelligence agency ISI, sneak into India, trek the difficult terrain to reach a road or highway, hijack a vehicle, storm a police station or target civilians. The raids had always been pre-dawn and in every attack, the terrorists were gunned down by our security forces after a prolonged battle.

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S Madhusudhana Rao

In other words, the script would be the same; only the scene of action would change. This time it was Dinanagar in Gurdaspur district, which is 35 km from Jammu and Kashmir border and 10km from Indo-Pak international border. Close proximity to Pakistan would have made the infiltrators’ task to attack a police station in Dinanagar in the early hours of Monday easier. The mayhem the terrorist trio had created on their way to Dinanagar and their 12-hour hold-up and the gunfight at the police station cost three civilian and four policemen’s lives.

The gunmen were finally killed was no consolation because their nocturnal infiltration through heavily secured and guarded border was proof that our intelligence had failed and there was laxity on the part of our Border Security Forces. Another possibility could have been that village-level alert mechanism when a stranger was spotted in the area had not been in place. Whatever the reason, the incident had exposed the chinks in our western border defences.

In recent years, border districts of Punjab were relatively free from cross-border raids because the local security apparatus had been strengthened after the militancy had ended, thus giving little chance to Jihadists across the border to create chaos. But now, the state can’t afford to be complacent anymore although theories abound that the militants’ original target was Amarnath pilgrimage. Since the J&K border was fortified and the pilgrims had been provided with extra security, the militants might have strayed into Punjab to accomplish their mission. Though the three were shot dead, only after the damage had been done, a question beckoning an answer is whether there is another group that had sneaked into Punjab and hiding somewhere. Unless a satisfactory answer is found, who planted the explosive devices on Amritsar-Pathankot railway track remains a mystery.

As more details emerge, it’s clear that the attack and attempt to blow up a train was planned by Jihadist groups across the border. CCTV footage and materials recovered from the slain gunmen have confirmed that the trio had crossed the border with a specific intention of killing civilians and police personnel and prepared for pitched battles with security forces. Though Pak intelligence agency ISI’s hand is strongly suspected, Delhi has desisted from directly blaming Islamabad for the covert attack.

The reason could be India doesn’t want to start another round of mutual blame game. However, the proposed Indo-Pak cricket series seems to suffer collateral damage as BCCI Secretary Anurag Thakur told the Times of India that “cricket and terror can’t go hand in hand.”

Nevertheless, it is expected that the talks between the National Security Agencies scheduled for August will go as per an understanding prime ministers of India and Pakistan had reached during a meeting in Ufa, Russia, earlier this month. Narendra Modi-Nawaz Shariff parleying on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization was an attempt to revive the stalled peace process and normalize relations.

Shariff’s personal invitation to Modi to attend SAARC summit next year and their apparent bonhomie had sparked uproar in Pakistan, particularly among hardliners. Since then the number of border violations has increased and Gurdaspur attack seems to be another attempt by elements opposed to Indo-Pak peace dialogue to throw a spanner in the works.

For years, Pak military brass and its intelligence arm ISI have been playing the game of shooting down Indo-Pak peace initiatives with the active involvement of Jihadist groups in occupied Kashmir. It’s a proxy war in which the militants are used as whipping boys, although they are trained and armed by ISI.  Gurdaspur attack could well be a part of that campaign to derail Indo-Pak bid for rapprochement. But it is a belligerent posture and testing the patience of our government and the people. Pakistan, for reasons best known to it, wants to see our patience run out to start fresh troubles.

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