In its 197th report the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs observed that “something is seriously wrong with our counter-terror security establishment” commenting in regards to the Pathankot Airbase Attack.
Pradip Bhattacharya, the Chairman of the Standing Committee said “We had a long interaction with officers at the Pathankot airbase. They said they had no information that their airbase would be attacked. They got information early in the morning, that too not from Punjab, but from the Delhi Air Force. How did it happen? Who gave this information to Delhi Air Force? These are remarkable things to search out.”
The Committee simultaneously expresses its anguish on the grievous breach of security in Pathankot and Gurdaspur (Punjab) and feels that these incidents put a question mark on our security preparedness and reflects of gaps in our intelligence network. The Committee observes that these incidents put shadow on all other achievements made on the internal security front and hence impresses upon the Ministry to take all steps to see that such incidents are not repeated in future.
As we reported extensively on the Pathankot Attack, there are uncanny recurring patterns to these attacks to the 26/11 Mumbai Attacks of 2008. The most bizarre is the recovery of two Global Positioning System devices (GPS) from the terrorists that shifted the focus of the entire investigation to where the terrorists had actually come from and how they entered the country. A post-operation investigation was launched to establish the route that they possibly took from Pakistan. Three days later, the police claimed that doctors found a glove on one hand of the terrorists carrying a marking “Made in Pakistan”. This claim raised enough heat. It was questioned as to why the police did not find the glove on the first day when they conducted a body search. However, the security agencies have failed to piece together a final report on the route taken by the terrorists based on the coordinates fed into the two GPS devices seized from the terrorists; along with the Punjab Police and the Border Security Force making contradictory claims regarding the route taken by the terrorists for entry into India.
First of all, the Committee is unable to understand that in spite of terror alert sounded well in advance, how terrorists managed to breach the high-security air base and subsequently made attack. The Committee is constrained to note that despite concrete and credible intelligence inputs received from abducted and released Pathankot’s Superintendent of Police (SP) and his friend and through interception of communication between terrorists and their handlers by the terrorists disclosing that they were planning an attack on a defence establishment, the security agencies of our country were so ill-prepared to anticipate threats in time and counter them swiftly and decisively.
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But then again there is this question of the 24 hour window the security establishment had from the time Singh and his cook informed the Punjab Police about the imminent attack and the hijacked blue-beacon vehicle. Was this information communicated by the Punjab Police to the Central agencies? Were the security personnel not alerted about the hijacked blue beacon car? How could a hijacked car speed past several checkposts in a situation of high alert? The Central agencies claim they were unaware about this intelligence and that there was a slip-up on part of the Punjab police that led to the delay or lapse in planning the appropriate responsive counter operation. However, according to an intelligence note prepared by additional director general of police, law and order, Hardeep Dhillon, the intelligence wing of Punjab had already issued intelligence pertaining to plans to carry out a spectacular attack in India possibly around New Year celebrations, 5 days prior to the strike.
The Committee feels that something is seriously wrong with our counter-terror security establishment. Despite the fencing, floodlighting and patrolling by BSF personnel, Pakistani terrorists managed to sneak into India from across the border. The Committee understands that in this attack, the role of Punjab Police is also very questionable and suspicious as even after abduction of Punjab Police SP, the Punjab Police took longtime in arriving at the conclusion that their abduction was not just a criminal robbery but it was going to be serious national security threat. The Committee is unable to understand why the terrorists let the SP and his friend off, which should be thoroughly examined by NIA. Besides, the Committee is of the view that the role of narco-syndicate active in border areas of Punjab should also be investigated as the terrorists might have taken help of channels or networks used by smugglers to infiltrate the border, shelter and carry out terror attack.
As we reported earlier the National Investigation Agency probing the attack learned from the Gurdaspur (Headquarter) Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh after interrogations that he got paid in diamonds for every drug consignment smuggled across the border. Singh’s jeweler friend Rajesh Verma would accompany him to his clandestine trips so that he could verify the authenticity of the stones. Verma is reported to have made such clandestine trip to the Peer Baba mazaar in Taloor village under Narot Jaimal Singh police station twice in the span of 12 hours on 31 December, along with his cook Madan Gopal and jeweler friend Rajesh Verma. The shrine is located a few kilometers from Bamiyal, the village from where the terrorists were suspected to have infiltrated into India before mounting the attack. It was Verma whose throat the terrorists slit open to send him to paradise (isko jannat pahuncha do), which he luckily survived. Investigations have also revealed that Madan Gopal, who Singh claims to be his cook, is actually his bodyguard.
However, it was only after GreatGameIndia published the detailed report, Pathankot Attack & The International Drug Trade on how the Pathankot attack was not just another usual terror incident but related to the international drug mafia stretching from Afghanistan via Pakistan to India from where it is shipped off to Dubai and Europe that the mainstream media started to see the incident in the right perspective. Punjab, for many years, has been a transit point for drugs from Afghanistan. The drug money has become a major source of funding of elections in Punjab and over the time a well-organized drug cartel has come into existence with active connivance of politicians, police officers and drug lords. This drug money is used in financing militancy. To check militancy we will also have to control the drug problem.
When a consignment of drugs leaves Pakistan for Punjab, it usually takes two routes. In areas where there are barbed wires on the border, smugglers stuff them into PVC pipes and push them across into India, where couriers pick them up for transporting them to the main land.
Though most of the Punjab border is guarded by barbed wires, the riverine belt of around 100km is unguarded. To push drugs through this region, drained by Ravi and Beas and lined with dense forests, smugglers use boats and couriers. This riverine belt is mostly to the west of Gurdaspur and Pathankot, and in some areas of Ferozepur, making them most vulnerable. Investigators suspect that the terrorists used this tried and tested route used by the drug smugglers to sneak into India and that they even had help from the local drug mafia.
Transporting drugs to the border from Pakistan is not a problem, the real problem starts once the drug consignment reaches Punjab, from where the involvement of a huge network of people at every level becomes necessary. In the border areas of Punjab, it is stored in safe houses for some time – called a cooling off period – and then relayed from point to point through an intricate network of middlemen and peddlers, who charge the dealers on the basis of the risk and distance involved.
The Committee during its visit found that airbase’s security cover was not robust and it had a poorly guarded perimeter wall. The perimeter wall of airbase was not having patrolling road around it. The Committee also found growth of long shrubs and trees in the premises which might have helped terrorists in hiding and making difficult for security forces in combing out these terrorists. The Committee recommends that the Pathankot Airbase which is very close to border should be declared high security zone and should be properly secured through round the clock patrolling and making it out of bounds for general people residing around the airbase.
The Committee notes the various measures taken by the Government of India to effectively counter future terror attacks. The Committee is of the view that only security establishment/infrastructure in place will not do but there should be proper intelligence gathering, timely sharing of inputs between various security agencies in real time which will help anticipate and launch counter terror operations. The Committee hopes that the security agencies should learn lessons from terror attacks of past to avoid mistakes in future.
However in order to be really effective in counter-terrorism we need a strategic shift in the way we understand terrorism. In the modern era of privatization and MNC controlled liberalization where the battle for the third world resources is like full scale proxy war, a new dimension of terrorism is arising. Be it Raghunath Temple, Akshardham, Grenade attacks in Kashmir, Nagpur attack or gate crashing in Ayodhya all were carried on by suicide bombers. But the Bangalore attack on scientists, explosion in Sriharikota and Mumbai blasts (now and before) were not suicide attacks. Why only in these cases the latest technology has been used though they possessed this material for a long time? Why only in a few compartments of multiple trains and why not in the same train and multiple compartments? If thes explosives can be smuggled and fitted in trains then why in the previous cases they were not fitted but the cadre was sacrificed?
Is it not true that even the latest Pathankot attack were carried out within less than 20 days after the ground breaking ceremony of what was being called a pipe dream for decades, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline that took place in the Turkmen town of Mary and was attended by leaders of the TAPI countries? And just a week after the surprising and much talked about meeting now known as the Billion Dollar Tea Party of the Indian Prime Minister with his Pakistani counterpart on the occasion of the latter’s 66th birthday during a two-hour stopover on his way back from his visit to Russia?
Is it also not true that the purpose of the conference in Taj during the Mumbai Attacks of 2008 was to advocate for the planned Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project. Though strongly opposed by the Bush Administration and Pakistan’s ISI Intelligence Service in the past, the Obama administration had planned on making it a ‘centerpiece’ towards his goal of achieving peace in Southeast Asia, and to which Kissinger had stated: “The pipeline will be a natural thing to do and I expect the new administration [to be headed by Obama] to begin discussions with Iran.”
Of course, closed circuit cameras, explosive identifying equipment, sniff dogs etc. do provide security to a limited level; but knowledge of the motives and the source of such motives will let us plan better for the security of innocent lives. If we do not plan well, then the Mumbai and Pathankot Attacks will not be the last but the first in a series of many such attacks to come, on soft targets that paralyze growth and tear the fabric of the country apart into sectarian camps.
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