By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On April 21, 2021, the Border Security Force (BSF) foiled an infiltration bid by three Pakistani intruders along the India-Pakistan international border in Pathankot.
On April 7, BSF personnel arrested 28-year-old Amjad Ali aka Majid Jutt, a resident of Kharak village in Lahore, Pakistani Punjab, at ‘zero-point’ in the Khemkaran area, along the India-Pakistan International Border, in Ferozepur District. A total of 20.5 kilograms of Heroin, a mobile phone, a power bank and a 13-foot-long PVC pipe (used to push in drug packets from under the border fence) were recovered by the BSF from Ali. Two of Ali’s associates and some Indians (who were to receive the consignment) managed to esacpe. Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Deputy Director General (North) Gyaneshwar Singh disclosed, “It is an international drugs syndicate working from across the border. Suppliers are sitting across the fence and pushing in the drugs into India.” NCB Deputy Director (Operations) K.P.S. Malhotra noted that this was the “first operation in which a Pakistani national was arrested alive” from the international front area, adding,
Amjad Ali was put to sustained interrogation, which led to unearthing of the entire drug syndicate, which is being controlled by two Pakistani nationals who are, residents of Lahore and Kasur Districts of Pakistan. The Indian side receivers have also been identified. Raids have been conducted at possible hideouts in Punjab and Gujarat.
Later, on April 17, a man, identified as Jarnail Singh, was arrested by the NCB from Vadodara in Gujarat on leads provided by Ali.
On April 7, in a joint operation, BSF and Punjab Police neutralised one Pakistani smuggler and seized 22 packets of Heroin, two rifles and four magazines near Border Outpost (BOP) Kakkar Forward area in Amritsar District.
Along with these incidents at the Border, several incidents of drug recovery with Pakistani links took place inside Punjab.
On April 24, 2021, Punjab Police arrested three drug smugglers in Pathankot District. 265 grams of Heroin, a US-made 7.62mm pistol and five cartridges were recovered from their possession. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Gulneet Singh Khurana disclosed that, while checking vehicles, the police team stopped a car without a registration number plate coming from the Amritsar side. One of the three people sitting in the car opened fire at the Police team and they tried to escape, ”However, they were intercepted by the police team.” The SSP added that preliminary investigations revealed that one of the arrestees had close links with smugglers in Pakistan.
On April 2, 2021, the Punjab Police arrested three persons and seized eight kilograms of Heroin in Hoshiarpur District. SSP Navjot Singh Mahal stated that one of the arrestees, Sukhwinder Singh, often visited Pakistan and he allegedly developed connections with drug smugglers there.
According to a March 28, 2021, report, the BSF had seized 124.58 kilograms of Heroin along the International Border in Punjab in 2021, till that date. BSF seized 517 kilograms of Heroin in 2020, in addition to 228 kilograms in 2019. BSF soldiers also shot dead eight drug smugglers and intruders in separate encounters in 2020 and arrested 13. An unnamed BSF officer disclosed, “The number of intruders trying to cross over, came down last year as we reacted swiftly.” Another BSF official stated, “With almost every drug consignment, weapons too are sent along. The most common weapon is a .30 bore pistol.”
On February 28, 2021, Punjab Director General of Police (DGP) Dinkar Gupta disclosed,
The Punjab Police had set a new record by seizing over 700 kilograms heroin worth INR 35 billion in the international market and confiscating property worth INR 1.01 billion after arresting over 10,000 drug smugglers in 2020… From April 1, 2017, till February 2021, the Punjab Police recovered 1,760 kilograms Heroin, 25 kilograms smack and 1,794 kilograms opium from the drug smugglers and suppliers besides seizure/attachment of property worth INR 1.63 billion.
On December 10, 2019, Parliament was informed that, according to the NCB data, large quantities of drugs had been recovered from Punjab between 2015 and 2018. These included a total of 5,414.5 kilograms of Ganja (cannabis); 1,830.72 kilograms of Heroin; 1,669.41 kilograms of Opium; 168,420.32 kilograms of Poppy Husk and Poppy Straw; and 15,888,517 tablets of all type. SFs had arrested a total of 46,909 persons in drug-related cases over this period.
In a related development, on April 8, 2021, Police in the Canadian Provinces of Ontario and British Columbia as well as in California executed over 50 search warrants, resulting in 33 people being charged with over 130 offences. Of these, 23 were of Indian Punjabi origin. One suspect, Gurbinder Sooch, remains at large. The York Regional Police (YRP), which led the investigation and the subsequent crackdown, indicated that multiple agencies had worked on the operation that “dismantled a large-scale international drug trafficking network that extended to western Canada, the United States and India.” The investigation, named Project Cheetah, began in May 2020 and penetrated “a robust network” involved in importing large quantities of banned drugs into Canada.
Significantly, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been relentless in its efforts to smuggle in drugs and arms into Indian Punjab to create instability in the border State.
However, the ISI-backed terrorists, both Khalistani and Islamist, failed to carry out any significant attack in Punjab in 2020. However, one fatal incident took place on October 16, 2020, when anti-Khalistan activist Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who had fought against terrorism in Punjab for years, was shot dead by unidentified assailants at his native Bhikhiwind village in Tarn Taran District.
The last major attack by ISI-backed terrorists in Punjab took place on November 18, 2018, when at least three people were killed and 20 were injured in a grenade blast at a religious congregation at the Nirankari Satsang Bhawan at Adliwal village in Amritsar District.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Police foiled many attacks as they neutralised several terrorist modules and arrested at least 26 terrorism suspects in 2020, in addition to 31 arrested in 2019. In the most recent incident on October 4, 2020, Punjab Police neutralized a Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) terrorist module with the arrest of two terrorists – Makhan Singh Gill aka Amli and Davinder Singh aka Happy, from Noorpur Jattan village in Hoshiarpur District. Police seized two sophisticated weapons and ammunition, including one sub-machine gun (with two magazines and 30 live rounds) and one 9 mm pistol (with two magazines and 30 live rounds), besides an Etios car, four mobile phones, and an internet dongle. DGP Dinkar Gupta disclosed,
During the preliminary investigations, Makhan alias Amli disclosed that they were in touch with Canada-based Harpreet Singh who had instigated them to raise a terror module in Punjab to carry out terrorist killings. According to Makhan, who has earlier been a close associate of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar, Canada-based Harpreet, a KZF operative, is a frequent visitor to Pakistan and he’s a close aide of Pak-based KZF chief Ranjeet Singh alias Neeta.
Several other measures were also taken in 2020, in addition to initiatives of the past, to thwart Pakistani design. On July 1, 2020, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) declared nine persons, including Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the United States (US)-based ‘legal adviser’ of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), terrorists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for their involvement in acts of terrorism and pushing the Khalistan movement. A UMHA release observed,
These individuals are involved in various acts of terrorism from across the border and from foreign soil. They have been relentless in their nefarious efforts of destabilizing the country, by trying to revive militancy in Punjab through their anti-national activities and through their support to and involvement in the Khalistan Movement.
The other designated terrorists included: Wadhawa Singh Babbar, Pakistan-based ‘chief’ of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI); Paramjit Singh, the United Kingdom-based ‘chief’ of BKI; Lakhbir Singh, the Pakistan-based ‘chief’ of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF); Ranjeet Singh, the Pakistan-based ‘chief’ of the KZF; Bhupinder Singh Bhinda, a Germany-based key member of KZF; Gurmeet Singh Bagga, a Germany-based key member of KZF; Paramjit Singh, the Pakistan-based ‘chief’ of Khalistan Commando Force; and Hardeep Singh Nijjar:, the Canada-based ‘chief’ of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF).
SFJ, which was formed in 2007, is trying to make inroads in Punjab in particular, and India at large, since 2018. The group came into prominence in August 2018, after its August 12 ‘London Declaration’ where it called for a ‘Referendum 2020’ for Khalistan.
More recently, on April 21, 2021, the Punjab Government approved a reward policy to encourage information and inputs leading to recovery of drugs under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. This is an “important step towards motivating people to play a proactive role in helping the government in cracking down on drug smugglers and traffickers,” a press note said.
The strict vigil and proactive action by the SFs have helped keep Punjab free of terrorism. However, there is no dearth of attempts by the ISI to push Punjab back into the dark era of the 1980s and early 1990s. Persistent vigilance and tenacious action by the Indian Forces remain a necessity to contain and eventually defeat the Pakistani design.
*Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management