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Tag Archives | Ajit Doval

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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Afghanistan’s India outreach

The likely transfer of four attack helicopters from India to Afghanistan marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Suhasini Haidar reported in The Hindu on November 4, 2015:

India is discussing the transfer of attack helicopters to Afghanistan when Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar visits New Delhi this weekend (November 7-8) for meetings with NSA Ajit Doval.

As Haidar details further, these four Russian-made Mi-25 helicopters will be India’s first offensive weaponry transferred to the National Unity Government in Afghanistan.

This transfer marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US, as explained below.

Up to this point, the Indian government had rolled back its engagement with Ashraf Ghani’s administration following his efforts (backed by the US) to reach out to all sections of Pakistan in the hope of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. Back then, it made sense for India to let its displeasure be made clear to the Afghan government, which chose to throw its weight behind Pakistan-led talks while keeping the Indian connection on the back burner.

However, we had argued in our writings that India should look to refresh its Afghanistan relationship in light of three new developments: failure of the Murree round of talks, splintering of the Taliban movement and its relative weakness in the South, and the changing geopolitics of Afghanistan, Central and West Asia over the last six months.

It finally appears that the Indian leadership has decided to re-energise its Afghanistan desk. Reports suggest that it was the Indian government that reached out to Afghanistan—the invitation to Mr. Atmar was extended by Mr. Doval during a telephone conversation a few days back. This is a welcome change—India looks to have overcome its fear of aggravating Pakistan in order to boost Afghanistan’s quest for strategic autonomy.

Second, this move also reflects a change in the Afghan government’s position. Already frustrated by the failure of the Murree round of talks, the Kunduz attack turned out to be the last straw. Following the Taliban takeover of the important northern city, the Afghan government was forced to re-evaluate its relationship with all its neighbours. The Chief Executive of the government, Abdullah Abdullah welcomed Russia’s potential assistance by saying:

If any country wants to assist Afghanistan in war on terror, Afghanistan welcomes the offer.

This outreach to India is a reflection of this realignment of Afghan government’s priorities.

Third, the National Unity Government’s change of heart is impossible without a change in the US position. We had indicated that the U.S., in search of an honourable exit from Afghanistan, had been shaken by the Kunduz incident and was looking for more options:

The Kunduz attaack makes it clear that the optimism generated by Pakistan-led round of talks was misplaced. The halt in troop withdrawal until 2017 is meant to buy time until the U.S. finds a better roadmap to peace in Afghanistan. While the U.S. and China still continue to place their bets on Pakistan-backed efforts, there is a growing realisation that the price Pakistan demands will never be acceptable to large sections of Afghans. Nevertheless, the U.S. is said to be examining various other possibilities for securing peace.

It is most likely that in search of new options, the US would have encouraged the national unity government to re-engage with India.

A few important questions emerge in the light of the new development: given the new start, will India further deepen its military relationship with the Afghan government? And more importantly, will India help the Afghan government and the US in starting a new peace process with sections of the Taliban? These questions will be answered in the days to come. In any case, well re-begun is almost half done.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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