9 January 2016

'Drug-terror nexus' in Pathankot

Security forces scour Bhullaechak Colony near Tibri Cantonment in Gurdaspur, less than 50km from Pathankot, on Thursday after a farmer said on Wednesday that he saw two men in army fatigues moving in a suspicious manner. The army and police are carrying out joint combing operations. “We are not taking any chance. All vehicles and people, in and around the area, are being physically checked,” Gurdaspur senior superintendent of police Gurpreet Singh Toor said. (PTI)
New Delhi, Jan. 7: The militants who attacked the Pathankot Air Force base tapped into drug-smuggling channels to carry out the raid, according to an assessment in the security establishment in New Delhi.
The security agencies are also probing an explosive element: whether one of the two squads of attackers, carrying heavy weapons, was "sheltered" inside the base, an executive familiar with the security assessment said.
The investigation is taking into account the nature of the terrain around the Shakargarh Bulge through which the Ravi river flows in and out of Pakistan bordering northern Punjab. Long stretches of the international boundary in the zone are not fenced.

The region has a history of being used to traffic contraband drugs. Local officials have been bribed by smugglers.
In the marriage of narcotics smuggling and terrorism, one line of investigation is probing whether a Punjab security official was lured into being an accomplice of the attackers.
He may have been lured by a combination of money and flesh but when he went to receive the consignment, the "package" turned out to be a gang of gun-wielding terrorists. That made him turn chicken and report to a superior with a half-truth, not the full story, the investigators suspect.

These disclosures were made when a security assessment was shared with a handful of journalists, including this correspondent, to challenge a perception that there was doubtful synergy in the chain of command during the Pathankot operation.
The alleged nexus between the drug mafia and politicians in Punjab has been a festering issue in the past few years. The Congress has consistently accused the Parkash Singh Badal government, which is partnering the BJP, of being hand in glove with drug cartels.
Last year Jagdish Singh Bhola, a former DSP, was booked in a Rs 600-crore synthetic drug scam. Bhola had named Bikram Singh Majithia, the state's revenue minister as well as the younger brother of Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the daughter-in-law of chief minister Badal.
Bhola had alleged that the drug trade was being run with the minister's patronage. Majithia's name figured in the Enforcement Directorate's chargesheet filed in Delhi's Patiala House court in February last year. According to the chargesheet, Majithia received Rs 35 lakh from a key accused as "election fund" between 2007 and 2012.

Majithia had denied his involvement in the scam, saying it was a conspiracy to malign him and the state government.

Central security agencies suspect druglords aided and abetted by a section of Punjab police and politicians have been providing logistics support to militants as soon as they cross the border, less than 30km from Pathankot.

Contacted today by this newspaper, Punjab education minister Daljit Singh Cheema refused to comment.

The border region is notorious for its heroin trails. In 2014, the BSF seized 370kg of heroin from the area. Till August last year, the seizure was 240kg.

Pathankot used to be part of Gurdaspur district but was later carved out as a separate district.

Surrounded by paddy fields, most of the villages in both districts are well connected to cities by roads. Amid multi-storey houses that suggest a certain degree of prosperity, one facility stands out in Pathankot town: a drug de-addiction centre.

Most of the occupants are said to be aged between 18 and 25. "During the militancy in the 1980s, thousands of young people were killed and reported missing. Now, the drug trade is killing the young," Manjit Singh, a primary school teacher in Pathankot, said.

Official perspective

In order to tackle the terrorists, the government deep-selected army commandos below the age of 30 years serving with the National Security Guard (NSG) and flew them to Pathankot.

Maj. Gen. Dushyant Singh, the inspector-general (operations) of the NSG, was deliberately placed in command because he had served in the region and also because he was the senior-most of the operational officers. Nine columns of the army were also deployed.

The review of the operations so far says the army and the NSG shared responsibility. Just as the NSG does not have equipment - like Cassipir mine-protected vehicles and BMPs (troop-carriers armed with cannons) - the army does not have some of the specialised weapons with the NSG, such as stun grenades. They were asked to pool in resources.

Air Marshal S.B. Deo, the western air chief, was asked to coordinate the movement of forces to limit casualties that could have occurred in the event of crossfires. The coordination was required because of multiple agencies that were deployed in the same counter-terrorist mission.

"Everyone was doing what he was best at. You cannot call it a mistake of planning or decision-making," the executive familiar with the assessment said, presenting a perspective from within the security establishment.

"There may have been a fault in training or execution. The first advantage in such a situation is always with the attacker. So after they attacked the DSC (Defence Security Corps) and killed them, we knew where they were and we confined them to a small space. Often, you have to take a decision. And the decision was taken promptly on January 1 itself. Everyone was on board. Right or wrong, we cannot be faulted for being indecisive," said the executive.

The assessment regards the operations on the night of January 2 as crucial. These were conducted after Union home Minister Rajnath Singh had tweeted (and later deleted the tweet) that five militants had been killed and that operations were drawing to a close. In reality, four had been killed by then but their bodies had not been taken into custody.

The force commander was advised to switch on all floodlights, including the headlights of vehicles, inside the base. The forces were also asked to open fire every 15 minutes or so through the night, whether they spotted the attackers or not.

The next firefight was also near the DSC guardroom, which showed that the tactic worked. "The idea was to tell the terrorists that we are here and we want you to know that we are here," said the executive.

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