On early hours of 27th July, a police station in Indian town of Gurdaspur situated in the western border state of Punjab was attacked by three terrorists. All three terrorists were gunned down after a battle of ten hours and Indian side suffered ten casualties including a senior police officer. This attack was different than previous terrorist attacks in two aspects. Choice of the target was not any major financial or political centre but rather a border town. And secondly, it was the first time that terrorists attacked state police and not an army establishment. Gurdaspur attack was a major terror incident in Punjab in over a decade. This incident is significant because Punjab once had a separatist movement for the formation of separate state of ‘Khalistan’. Khalistanis were supported by Pakistan’s ISI from across the border and had killed India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984.
This was also the first major terror attack since May 2014, when a new government had come to power in Delhi. Current Prime Minister Modi of right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had criticised previous government’s weak and soft approach regarding Pakistan and terrorism. He had argued for more hardline policy and muscular response in his campaign speeches. But as of now, Modi’s government has not clearly defined its approach to Pakistan. This government has sent mixed signals to Pakistan. It has canceled Foreign Secretary level talks in last August. And same government changing its stance requested a meeting of two Prime Ministers now after almost a year on the sidelines of SCO summit in Ufa. In that meeting it was decided to continue the dialogue. Both sides agreed, first time, for talks between their National Security Advisors as well. India has declared that notwithstanding this attack, talks will continue though it canceled cricket matches.
This attack was overshadowed by the news coverage of the death of India’s former President ‘Missile Man’ Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam on the same day. As the nation was preparing to bid adieu to its beloved late President, news reports emerged in the American press that Islamic State has decided to target India. In the same week, another news dominated Indian press i.e. hanging of Yakub Memon, accused in 1993 Bombay blasts. Whether he is guilty or not, whether he deserved to be hanged or not, was he being targeted because he belonged to a minority Muslim community or not were some of the issues involved. These questions have salience in future as fundamentalist Islamic State plans to target India. It is also interesting to note that this attack comes in less than a month after Afghan government and Talibani representatives had held talks in Muree in Pakistan.
If taken the news of Gurdaspur attack, IS plan and Yakub Memon hanging together, a clear picture emerges of a state having problems while dealing with the issue of terrorism and its aftermath. Whether it was the government of Manmohan Singh or Narendra Modi, whether India talks to Pakistan or does not talk, terrorist attacks do not stop. India failed to prevent attack from happening in spite of having celebrated super spy and terror expert like Mr. Ajit Doval as its National Security Advisor. Indian agencies also failed to catch terrorists alive which shows that perhaps lessons are not learnt from such previous incidents. Immediately after the attack, fingers were pointed towards Pakistani involvement. This blame gaming could have avoided till the substantial evidence was gathered. Similar loose talk was on display after the cross border raid in Myanmar on India’s eastern front in retaliation to a strike on an army column in June. It is not clear as of now what action Indian government is contemplating but it must be noted here that Indian forces had carried out cross border raids in the past without fanfare though.
Mr. Modi, while he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. had opposed the creation of a National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) modelled on the American NCTC and British Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. This was supposed to be the single agency for counter terror operations and collection, analysis and dissemination of data related to terrorism. It was considered that NCTC will weaken India’s federal structure. But in light of such terror incidents and growing challenge from Islamic State it would be a good idea to revisit the opposition to NCTC.
*Sankalp Gurjar, Dept. of International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences South Asian University (University established by SAARC Nations) Akbar Bhawan Campus, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, India.