After a hiatus, spectre of terrorism haunts Punjab again | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


A series of security-related issues have come to the fore in Punjab in recent days. Some of them are:

May 9

* Rocket-Propelled Grenade (RPG) attack on Punjab Police Intelligence Headquarters in SAS Nagar;

* BSF troops shoot down a drone carrying 9 packets (10.67 kg) of heroin along border in Punjab.

May 8

* Punjab Police arrest two men from Naushehra Pannuan in Tarn Taran district bordering Pakistan and recover an explosive device packed with 1.5 kg of RDX from their possession;

* Khalistan flags found tied on the main gate of the Himachal Pradesh Assembly Complex in Dharamsala.

May 5

* Haryana Police arrest four persons from a toll plaza near Karnal carrying three IEDs weighing 2.5 kg each

Though these five incidents within a span of five days occurred in three different states, they are being seen as a collaborative scheme to cause mayhem and disturbances in the region. What has added to the worry of the security agencies is the fact that these incidents have come on the heels of a communal clash between some Sikh and Hindu rightwing organizations in Patiala on April 29. There is also a common factor between the Patiala clashes and pinning up of the flag in Dharamsala. Both incidents followed calls by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, US-based founder of a secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice.

While intelligence and security agencies are still trying to fathom the seriousness of the threat of the revival of terrorism, there is no denying the fact that the Khalistan narrative is back after a four-year hiatus. Said a retired DGP, Punjab, “The recent incidents within days of the change of guard in Punjab should have been expected. They are trying to take advantage of the ambiguity in the command and control structure. Clear directions from the new government would be necessary to thwart these designs.”

Police officers recall how a similar attempt was made in 2016-17 when there were no less than eight targeted attacks aimed at high-profile rightwing activists. These included the killing of two senior RSS leaders, Brig Jagdish Gagneja in August 2016 and Ravinder Gosain in October, 2017. Investigations by the NIA revealed that these attacks had been planned from across the border with footprints extending to countries like Italy, UK, Dubai and Australia.

However, the 2016-17 incidents were quickly brought under control through clear directions by the then CM, Captain Amarinder Singh. He had asked the police to work in close coordination with the central agencies, including the Intelligence Bureau and the BSF. He had also dealt with the menace of gangsters in the state with a firm hand. More than 1900 gangsters and members of various criminal gangs had been arrested or neutralized, including 13 category ‘A’ gangsters. Besides, more than 30 terrorist modules had been busted, 150-odd suspected militants arrested, and more than two dozen foreign handlers identified.

Now all eyes are on the Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government in Punjab, which is facing flak from the Opposition party leaders for “deteriorating law and order situation.” State Congress President, Raja Warring, termed the blast as “disturbing news.”

Following the flag-pinning incident in Dharamsala, the Himachal government has been quick to act. They have sealed all borders, tightened the vigil and also appointed a Special Investigations Team (SIT) under a DIG to probe the pasting of the flag on the gates of the Vidhan Sabha. They are reportedly scrutinizing all CCTV cameras in and around the Assembly complex. Himachal Police are reportedly pushing for issuing of a red-corner notice by Interpol against Pannun.

In view of recent incidents, there is a fair amount of media hype over the activities of Pannun. However, former DGP, Punjab, Rajinder Singh, who was in forefront during the militancy days, sounded a note of caution. “Paying undue attention to Pannun would be tantamount to playing into his game plan. Instead, we should be gearing up to deal with the increasing nexus between terrorists, gangsters and drug dealers and arms consignments being fed to them through drones from Pakistan,” he added.

Since most parts of the 553-km Punjab border with Pakistan is fenced, the terrorists and their handlers have been resorting to use of hexacopters (drones) to smuggle in weapons and drugs and using internet to give directions to their local cells in Punjab. Of late, the drones being used are highly sophisticated with add-on capability. For example, the drone shot down by BSF on Monday, had a “hold and release mechanism” with extra batteries to enhance its “reach.” Four drones have been shot down in Amritsar sector by BSF in the last few days. Besides Amritsar-Tarn Taran sector, the Ferozepur-Mamdot sector is also being used to drop arms and ammunition through drones.

Three of the four persons arrested near Karnal belonged to Ferozepur district. BSF officers say that in the last two years more than 150 drones have been sighted along the Punjab border with Pakistan.

The RPG attack at the Punjab Police Intelligence Headquarters in SAS Nagar on Monday night poses a new threat and raises numerous questions. One, how have the militants been able to source the RPG, which is a weapon currently used by paramilitary forces? Markings on it indicate that it may have been smuggled from across the border. Two, if this was just a one-off piece or whether there are more, which could pose threats? Three, since only the “warhead” that hit the building has been recovered, the “launcher”, which is reusable, is yet to be traced. Four, since the RPG has a range of 100 meters to 500 meters, the security forces would have to widen their cordon around potential targets.

Security forces are also exploring the possibility of a J&K angle, since RPGs have been used there. Earlier, last month, the police had recovered some explosive devices near the Burail Jail in Chandigarh, which is only a few km from the RPG blast. Military experts say that the attackers must have been trained and done reconnaissance of the area before unleashing it. Since there is a back-blast when an RPG is fired, they must have come out of the vehicle, positioned themselves and then fired.

Punjab police officers feel that since the days of militancy in Punjab, the wherewithal and the infrastructure to deal with any eventuality is intact. Besides a Counter-Intelligence wing to deal with specific inputs, the Punjab Police even has 21 highly trained “Hit” teams of 21- members each of Special Operations Group (SOG) for engaging terrorists in encounters, should the occasion require it.

Security experts feel that in the wake of incidents in Haryana and HP, besides Punjab, the three state police need to create a “anti-terrorism coordination cell”, which should also liaison with officers of the BSF and the Intelligence Bureau. Due to the imminent connection between gangsters and terrorists, the proposed cell should also coordinate with the Anti-Gangster Task Force, which has been formed.

Former police officers suggest that in the wake of fresh threats, the Monthly Intelligence Review (Pink Book), which had been started by the former DGP Intelligence, OP Sharma, in the heydays of terrorism, could be re-started and disseminated to all districts. This would help dust up old records and map the activities of various militant groups and their members who are active as a ready reckoner.

There is evidence to suggest that some new leaders of the old terrorist outfits have emerged. Names of at least two new kingpins have cropped up. In the Ferozepur-Mamdot sector, recent arrests point to one, Harvinder Singh Rinda, who is absconding. Police records state that he is a gangster-turned militant, who had been a student leader in Chandigarh. Since he had lived in Maharashtra, he had the potential of activating his cells outside Punjab. The other person active in the Amritsar area is one, Jobanjit Singh, who has been declared a proclaimed offender. They have been using poor people to deliver the consignments with the lure of money.

Punjab battled terrorism for nearly a decade and a half. Some of the recent incidents have an uncanny resemblance with the earlier incidents, including a footprint across the border. Since a huge reservoir of expertise is available, the state government could form an ‘Anti-terror Advisory Group’ in which some retired police officers who were in the forefront of anti-terrorist operations in 1980s and 1990s, could be included.

Fortunately, the security forces have been able to foil most attempts at infiltrating weapons and reviving terrorism. Even the recent attacks have not been able to inflict much damage to life and property. However, they are definitely a wake-up call for the governments and security forces to tighten up our security drills.

(The writer is a journalist and a former Member of Punjab Legislative Assembly).



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