Gurdaspur terror attack was small-scale but it exposed serious chinks in India’s armour

Manvendra Singh

Gurdaspur district features in one of the enduring conspiracy theories in Pakistan, a land afflicted with such talk. Many believe that despite a Muslim majority, Gurdaspur was deliberately denied to Pakistan in 1947 only because it provided a direct road link from Jammu &Kashmir to the rest of India. Imperial Britain favoured India then, and all the subsequent wars and insurgencies have not been able to undo this cartographic conspiracy theory.

The terrorist attack on Monday on Dinanagar in Gurdaspur is par for the course, so to say.

Over the last few months, there has been a murmur within India’s security circles — which happens to also be given to conspiracy theories, albeit at a far lesser scale than their counterparts across the Radcliffe Line — about a ‘Big One’ that was coming, ‘Big One’ alluding to another Mumbai 2008-type of terrorist attack.

There was a certainty in the murmurs, because terrorist groups operating from Pakistan are habitual about attacking India.

By the wildest stretches of imagination, the Dinanagar attack cannot be taken as a ‘Big One’. Going by the scale, the audacity and even the sheer visual impact, this one doesn’t fit the bill of a ‘Big One’.

The Dinanagar attack is on the scale of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplan (NSCN-K) ambush at Chandel in Manipur on June 4 that killed 20 Indian Army personnel. Easy target, plenty of itchy fingers, shock value and security forces lulled into complacency.

Things had fallen into place on June 4in Manipur. They also fell into place on July 27 in Punjab.

If and when — and there’s a big ‘if ’ —the ‘Big One’ comes, it is likely to operate on the benchmark set by Islamic State (IS): shock and awe at its most grotesque. New and audacious recruits come not from madrasas, but from the world of digital decapitation.

As intelligence agencies and security forces race round the clock to prevent and prevail upon terrorists, goalposts are constantly shifting.

Techie Terror

The unemployed and unemployable Ajmal Kasab-types are a thing of the past. The ‘Big One’ will involve techies on a ‘mission from god’. If it does happen, that is. Meanwhile, the signals from Dinanagar should not be lost. Some questions are always trending during terrorist operations.

Was it intelligence failure? Who did it? What are the casualty figures? Of course it was an intelligence failure since they came in and killed people. Intelligence successes never make it to breaking news and headlines because that is the nature of intelligence.

Its failure makes it to page one and prime-time news. It matters less who did it, than what the intention was.

In this case, the most likely target were the family quarters of Punjab Police, the barracks and to create a hostage situation. By all accounts, that was averted, and Punjab Police must be complimented. It was not a posh target à la south Mumbai. But it was just enough to instigate and irritate the Indian state.

There are some in the Pakistani state for whom India is anathema. They can never come to terms with it, even if some politicians in Pakistan would like a normal relationship with India. These elements support and sustain anti-India groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed. There are enough volunteers in the terror factories of Pakistani Punjab who can be motivated to launch a terror mission. So, it is likely that as investigations into Monday’s attack get underway, the names of such groups will come up.

What should also not come as a surprise is that the attackers sneaked into India within the last 24 hours and were guided to their target. Without a prior reconnaissance, it would be very difficult for attackers to hone in on their target so accurately, even with a global positioning system. Their short duration in India is the main reason why intelligence failed.

Any longer period of moving around would have triggered off alarm bells. Much like an animal in an unfamiliar terrain leaving a trail that doesn’t fit any pattern, a short-stay fidayeen squad won’t carry identifiable signs. Until they open fire.

The primary lesson from the June 4 Chandel attack was: never take eyes and ears off the terrorists, especially those who have broken a longterm contact. In the case of Dinanagar, the primary lesson is: what was learnt from Mumbai 26/11 has not been implemented.

Busy Rehearsing

Granted, Punjab Police contained the terrorists and didn’t break contact. Well done. But the mobilisation of special operations forces that was planned around hubs across the country has not been activated. They rehearse house-entry and room-entry drills daily, but were not used in Dinanagar on Monday, thereby prolonging the siege.

It is the prerogative of the state concerned to take or decline the Centre’s help. In the case of Punjab Police, they have the motivation and some skills to undertake this type of operation. Another state at another time may not be so fortunate.

(The writer is BJP MLA from Rajasthan and former member, standing committee on defence.)


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