The Pathankot Attacks: The link between terrorism and the drug market

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Punjab’s porous border, which has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent, is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

The Pathankot Attacks have once again heightened the national security concerns in India, specifically in Punjab as terror has struck the region twice within twelve months. The entire episode raises serious concerns about the preparedness of Indian security forces. This article is primarily aimed at establishing a link between the terror attacks in Punjab and the drug smuggling rampant in the state. The porous border that Punjab shares with Pakistan topped with the lack of vigilance in the area has aided drug peddlers across the Golden Crescent. The same is now facilitating terrorism in the region.

First, the question arises on how the terrorists infiltrated the International border or the LOC, despite an alert and heightened security. There are speculative reports that terrorists may have entered from the same point which was exploited during the Gurdaspur attacks. Other reports suggest that the terrorists might have sneaked in from Bamial village in Pathankot, a spot covered in thick foliage and unfenced rivulets which is often used by drug peddlers. The Gurdaspur area for instance is quite close to the Pakistan border and lies between Ravi and Beas, a terrain that is vulnerable. Security forces already possess requisite gadgets like thermal imagers and radars to monitor activity in these areas. Therefore, such repetitive lapses hints at the ill preparedness of forces and possibly, the involvement of an insider.

Second, the fact that they could easily gain access into an airbase with such a large amount of ammunition makes one wonder if terrorists are bribing their way through the state. The air force base in Pathankot, spread over a vast 25km, houses strategic military equipment and an aerial fleet and is situated on the highway that leads to J&K. How is it that there were no fool proof security mechanisms at such a strategic base? Instead of ridiculing an SP who reported his abduction, why did authorities not kickstart the combing operations instantly?

The attack has come across as a big blow not only to the central government but also to the Punjab State government. It’s a brazen fact that Punjab’s notorious drug market has provided a breeding nest to an illegal arms trade racket and has also aided terrorism, both home grown and external. Punjab’s proximity to the Golden Crescent and around 550 km of shared border with Pakistan has made it a drug haven for smugglers. According to a study conducted by the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, porous borders have rendered areas like Gurdaspur and Amritsar prominent heroin collection centers.

Though the security forces were able to neutralize the terrorists after a long encounter, the security breach and the loss of life could have been further contained had the government acted swiftly on intelligence reports. Had the operation started right after the complaint by the SP, who was initially taken as a prisoner by the terrorists, valuable lives could have been saved.

It should also ring alarm bells for the Punjab police – unless it tightens its grip on the drug racket in the state and the allied arms trade, the state will remain an easy target for terrorists. The smuggling network in Punjab must be comprehensively curbed and the gaps in security must be plugged. Hopefully, after two successive security and intelligence failures, the state government will pull its act together on the security front.

Shikha Pathak is a Community Manager at The Takshashila Institution. Shikha tweets @ShikhaPathak15.

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