Nearly a fortnight ago, terrorists had attacked a police station in Gurdaspur and killed 12 people including a Superintendent of Police. God prevented a bigger incident as five live bombs on railway tracks were defused in time. It may be the first such attack since 2002, but definitely symptomatic of troubled times ahead for the people of the State who are already battling against unemployment, farmer’s suicide, youth unrest and drug menace.
Besides the domestic aspect, terrorist attacks in Punjab have serious security and foreign policy implications, for the history of the State and for its geographic and strategic importance. The deadly attack was a wakeup call for the Modi government in Centre as well as for the Badals in Punjab because whatever may be the mens rea of the terrorists and the political masters, if Punjab, which has historically suffered a lot, emerges as another terrorist front after Jammu & Kashmir, it will pose a serious strategic threat to India as a nation – state.
The basic question that all are asking after the Gurdaspur incident is that why did it happen to Punjab again and whether it was an isolated case or beginning of another tragic era. There are several aspects, which need to be understood to arrive at a satisfactory answer to this question. The economic link of terrorism and smuggling of drugs across the border to India is one such vital aspect in the context of resurgence of cross border militancy in the State.
The second aspect of the problem is not only complicated but also very dangerous for the peace of Punjab as well as for sovereignty of India. Reported build up of Lashkar – e – Taiba / Jaish – e – Mohammed terrorist groups on the Pakistan border and regrouping of Khalistan forces, combined with the communal politics of SAD – BJP ruling alliance, are real threats for Punjab and India as a nation – state. There are more than one theory about the source and route of the terrorists.
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The third aspect is political in nature. The tacit support of the Akalis, their stand on espousing the militants’ cause by way of seeking premature release of hardliners including Babar Khalsa International terrorists and stoic silence of the BJP leadership could revive militancy in Punjab which has been otherwise a peaceful State since suppression of the Khalistan movement.
Vote bank politics is regaining as the 2017 Assembly elections are coming closer. The Akalis are trying to compensate their loss of support among the masses by igniting communal passion. BJP is eyeing for fishing in the troubled water. Political compulsions are prevailing over national interest.
Increased communalisation in Punjab gave rise to Khalistan movement and this needs to kept in mind by the BJP and Akalis before igniting communal passion in the State for the sake of electoral benefits. Our eyes may be on Jammu & Kashmir and hosting of ISIS and Pakistan flags there, situation in Punjab is no less volatile. Good sense should prevail and both the parties should work towards strengthening law and order in Punjab and to build an effective counter-terrorism strategy.
What’s the solution? Jingoism is not going to solve the neither problem or conflicting response by the Centre and the State Government. There is a need for immediate and unambiguous response from the state mechanism to deal with the terrorist threats in Punjab. Punjab police are known for their valour but we cannot undermine the immediate need for modernisation of police force in Punjab.
They need to be equipped with modern technology to deal with extremism, terrorism, narcotics and cyber crime. Secondly, they should be trained, in terms of operation and strategy, to deal with any such incident. An effective anti-terrorism measure should involve a coordinate effort among the legitimate stakeholders and agencies of the Government. Absence of such a coordination mechanism will lead to disorganised response to terrorism.
Most importantly, terrorism should not be used, at any cost, as a tool for political gain. If militancy will resurface in Punjab, which should never happen, it will because of lack of control of the Central Government over the elements perpetrating regional chauvinism, militancy and narco-terrorism in the State and tacit support of the Akalis in the State for promoting these elements.
(The Author is a Supreme Court Advocate and National Media Panellist of the Indian National Congress. The views expressed by the Author are personal.)