Guest Column | Saluting the Brave

Punjab Police displayed exceptional presence of mind in thwarting the terrorist attack in Gurdaspur

Somesh GoyalSomesh Goyal

Punjab Police deserves kudos for the resolve they exhibited in taking on the three militants who laid siege on a vacant building adjacent to the police station in Dinanagar town in Indian Punjab close to the international border (IB) with Pakistan. All available information suggests that the militants managed to cross the international border and were tasked for this attack by Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). It remains to be seen whether any of the militant outfits takes the responsibility for this dastardly act in the early hours of the fateful Monday. Pakistan, as is expected, will wash its hands off their involvement and pass the buck to the homegrown militant outfits of India.

The motive behind this insertion and place opted for infiltration, are being investigated by the Punjab Police and the central sleuths. Some suspect the militants’ original intent was to target the Amarnath Yatra to fan communal hatred and violence. It is also suspected in some quarters that the battery of GPS carried by the militants lost its juice, making them stray into an unintended destination. It is also not known whether any ground support was also lined up for these emissaries of death by their akas in Islamabad. KPS Gill, the mastermind of Punjab operations in his heydays, called this attack a “visiting card of ISIS”. The veteran’s words need to be taken seriously.

It is very rare in today’s security scenario to see a state police owning the responsibility in such situations and assume leadership. Police being a state subject, this kind of leadership should be a given. But the experience of yesteryears shows that states are very happy demanding central forces and elite counter terrorist units at the drop of the hat without marshalling their own resources. There may be no state that does not claim to have a special unit or group trained to handle such situations. But when the occasion arises all tend to look towards the centre for assistance. Punjab Police and Jammu and Kashmir police are the only police forces that have carefully developed, nurtured and deployed their special elements in these roles on regular basis. Those who have operated in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) will vouch for the professional approach of the SOG. The local police units have several advantages like knowledge of ground, people, sympathisers, hostile elements, local level intelligence and so on. Their tactical approach is conditioned by local situation and does not really follow rigid templates to deal with such situations. It is matter of record that militancy has been completely eradicated or controlled in states of Punjab and J&K respectively because the state police forces in these state assumed the lead rather than conveniently letting the central forces fight the terrorists on their behalf. The Punjab Police refused the assistance of National Security Guards (NSG) whose unit in Amritsar was ready to respond and the army was also kept on standby. The confidence of the Punjab Police reverberated in the words of an Addl Director General of Police of Punjab who stated that for four militants the Punjab Police did not need any outside help.

Punjab Police has demonstrated that their body and vehicle armour might have lost sheen and become unserviceable (they requisitioned bullet proof vehicles from J&K) but their will and tactical acumen remained intact. The sentry on duty outside the police station returned the militants’ fire before succumbing to fatal bullet injuries. DGP Punjab Sumedh Singh Saini is an old warhorse having personally led operations against terrorists in the Eighties. He supervised the operation and was very candid and succinct in his media briefing. The doughty Punjab Policemen could be seen throwing grenades and exchanging fire with the intruders without wearing any body armour. Not many in the SWAT team were also with the desirable protection. It could be attributed to a decade of lull in Punjab. But now that terrorism has knocked at the doors of Punjab and K2 (Kashmir and Khalistan) plan of ISI is still active, the government of the day in the state can ill afford to avoid placing adequate resources for preparedness against such repeat misadventures by our international neighbour. The Union government may also consider reviving the modernisation plan for the state police forces albeit in a new avatar to ensure that the funds are utilised to achieve stated goals.

Chief minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal trained his guns on the central forces guarding the IB between India and Pakistan for infiltration of militants in Gurdaspur. In the last few fidayeen attacks in Jammu and now in Punjab, militants have used the IB to gain access into our territory to create trouble. There is a definite need to augment security on the borders. Adequate surveillance equipment is available and availability of a fence and lighting makes the task of manning the borders relatively easier. Monsoons are indeed bad times for the border guards when visibility is poor and awkward sounds of machinery and movement of people drown in the downpour or the noise of the rivers, besides the fencing gets washed away in heavy rains. Yet, the Punjab chief minister is not off the mark and the Union home minister has rightly issued a strong direction to the Border Security Force (BSF) for maximum alertness in the days to come.

A number of panelists on electronic media rued the non-implementation of the Kargil report. One aspect that has not been fully implemented is the concept of ‘One Border One Force’. Our western border with Pakistan is of utmost importance to us for Pakistan has practiced the doctrine of inflicting a thousand cuts. There is a need to have an exclusive border guarding force for this border. The BSF, responsible for this border, has been saddled with the extra burden of the eastern borders as well which makes it difficult to provide undivided attention to our number one enemy. No gainsaying that the intel and tactical requirements of the western border are vastly different from the eastern borders. Maybe it is time for us to take a leaf out of Pakistan’s book. Pakistan Rangers Sindh and Punjab are two separate forces headed by different director general. And their efficiency is well known. The import of such an arrangement should not be lost on the North Block and a similar division of responsibilities should be worked out to make border management more focused.

Sardar Baljit Singh, SP (detective) Gurdaspur made supreme sacrifice in the line of duty, and following the footsteps of his father who was also in the Punjab Police and died during a terrorist operation in the mid Eighties. Leaders like him will inspire all those who wear khaki. Hundreds of policemen lay down their lives every year in the service of nation fighting militancy, Naxalism, gang-wars, dacoity and other heinous crimes. Baljit Singh was a second generation police officer and an ace midfielder who donned Indian colours in hockey, debuting in a test series against South Africa in 1993. Baljit Singh fought valiantly till the end like a true sportsman, ensuring that his team scored the winning goal. May his soul rest in peace!

(The writer is director general of police, Himachal Pradesh)