The terror attack on July 27 by a three-member cross-border fidayeen team on the Dinanagar police station in Gurdaspur district has again brought to the fore concerns about the revival of terrorism in the Punjab region. The terrorists, who were dressed in army uniforms, struck at Gurdaspur around 5.30 a.m., stormed the police station, before finally being killed after a 12-hour gun battle. It is suspected, that the same terrorists had planted five Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on a railway track near Talwandi village between Dinanagar and Jhakoladi. Another terror attack took place at around 8 a.m. on August 5, when two terrorists also suspected to be originating from Pakistan, fired at a Border Security Force (BSF) convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar highway at Simroli. The attack left two BSF constables dead and, in a rarity, one of the two terrorists involved was captured alive.
These incidents have generated a fair share of political potshots, cries of intelligence failure and, as always, there are demands for modernisation of police forces of the states. As in the case of most such incidents, the twin terror strikes raise some fresh issues and have some lessons to offer.
Who Came Calling?
While there is reportedly “overwhelmingly conclusive” evidence that the terrorists involved in these strikes had infiltrated from Pakistan, there is no clarity on when, and how many had infiltrated. In the case of Dinanagar attack, as initial comments from Pakistan questioned more the nationality of the attackers rather than from where they had entered India, it led to speculation that these infiltrators might be of Indian origin, but trained in Pakistan. The timing of the Dinanagar attack also led to a rash of conspiracy theories as to its aim, even linking it to the hanging of Yakub Memon. The aim of the Udhampur attack appeared more simplistic- it was to kill ‘Hindus’ and there was little to speculate as to the nationality of the attackers.
The attack at Dinanagar used the same general methodology of the attacks of the past few months in Kathua-Samba area. Ingress undetected across the International Border (IB) in a small group, then swiftly strike at one or two soft targets in police or army uniforms, cause as many causalities and confusion as possible, head for the highway, commandeer a vehicle to change the speed and direction of your attack on the next target, which is a hard target – a military or police establishment. This hard target once under control will provide protection against counter attacks, and even better, a source of additional weapons and ammunition. What is disturbing is the regularity with which the Pakistan-based militants have employed this methodology and none of our corrective actions have forced them to look for an alternative.
There was one strikingly peculiar commonality between the two attacks – the poor standard training of the terrorists. During the Dinanagar attack the battery connection to the IEDs placed on the railway tracks was faulty, and despite a 12-hour gunbattle the three terrorist never found an opportunity to use their light anti-tank rocket launcher. In the Udhampur attack, the ambush on the BSF bus was, fortunately, poorly executed. This led an analyst to conclude that terror groups in Pakistan were struggling to attract good recruits. What if this bumbling approach was a tactic in a larger plan?
Two other issues would worry India besides the ease with which these militants are crossing the IB. First is their undetected duration of stay and freedom of movement in sensitive border areas. Staying undetected for over ten days allows them to strike further away from the IB at hitherto militancy free areas within the state and in neighbouring areas. Second, is the availability and extent of local support. The fact that local support extends beyond food, shelter and guidance to include arms and ammunition, not only facilitates infiltration it also feeds into the narrative by indicating the presence of local resistance and validity of external assistance.
While there is lot of back-slapping and congratulations going around after the capture of Mohammed Naved Usman, but do not be surprised if there is an identical celebratory mood in Pakistan amongst Naved’s handlers. When his capture is viewed in the context of what might be the actual plan, Naved would have achieved much more by staying alive and getting captured than in his “Shahadat” or martyrdom would have.
A large part of the interested and connected world would have been treated to the images of this goofy barefoot smiling young man in his early 20s, very much our neighbourhood lad. He comes from a normal family with a decent background and has walked across miles through unfavourable terrain and hostile conditions to take revenge in the name of his faith for “several” Kashmiri killed by Indian security forces. Forsaking a normal comfortable life for what he perceived a higher and a more meaningful purpose. His statements would resonate amongst several young, albeit misguided, Muslims who are streaming across the various countries to Iraq, Syria, etc. It would also showcase to the world how ‘emotive’ an issue Kashmir is for a simple, common devout Pakistani – he is willing to kill and die for it.
The Pakistani narrative being put forth by various analysts is simple – it makes no tactical sense or serves no strategic purpose for Pakistan to send across these semi-trained half-baked terrorists in groups of two-and threes; so where is the rationale and the motive. These are self-motivated, self-radicalised, like-minded lone wolves who have come together to take revenge for the atrocities being wreaked on their fellow Muslims. Here, the Pakistani narrative, which had shifted from state-sponsored terror to rogue non-state actors’ post 26/11, is now devolving on self-radicalised individuals acting singly or collectively on their own accord. If such individuals could bomb the Boston Marathon in fortress USA, why not in India, J&K? Therefore India should stop them at the IB, if it can, and turn them over to the Pakistani state, which will take back these misguided youth.
Even better if India wants to put an end to the problem, solve the Kashmir issue, stop fomenting trouble in Baluchistan, and, the cherry-on-the- cake, stop ill-treating Indian Muslims. The larger aim of this narrative appears to be to strike a chord with the “global jihadist” sentiments over the Kashmir issue.
Therefore while in India post these attacks, analysts are discussing the innards of our Pakistan policy, the spirit of Ufa and whether the NSA-level talks will go through or not, Pakistan quite ‘helplessly’, by stealth, is putting Jammu and Kashmir on the global jihadi’s map.