The Border Security Force (BSF) in Gurdaspur is moving the barbed wire fencing with Pakistan closer to the International Border for better security management and “operational efficiency” in the area, BSF officials have told The Indian Express.
In another key measure, BSF personnel, who are mandated with guarding the border, are now fanning out into the interiors of the Gurdaspur and Pathankot districts with “depth nakas” at several strategic junctions, and “depth patrolling” at random places, along with the Punjab police.
On July 27 last year, three men shot their way through the streets of Dinanagar, about 12 km from the border, and still shooting, stormed into the town’s police station. They holed up in a building inside the premises and were killed after a 10-hour firefight with Punjab police commandos.
One year after the Dinanagar attack, the BSF and the Punjab Police remain locked in a tussle on how the men entered Punjab. The Punjab Police says they crossed the IB from Pakistan’s Punjab province. The BSF is equally emphatic they did not cross the IB in Punjab.
But in the months after the attack, during which there was another terrorist attack, this time on the Pathankot Air Base, with more definite evidence that the terrorists had crossed over the IB, the BSF hopes that rationalising the wire fencing with the IB, the depth patrolling and ‘smart’ movement-detecting equipment will help it plug any security holes on this border.
The BSF has shifted the fence closer to the International Border at least in two villages in Gurdaspur district, and a senior official said the “process is on” at other places.
Border Area Sangharsh Committee general secretary Raghbir Singh told The Indian Express that the fence had been shifted closer towards the IB in Rosse and Borh Wadala villages in Gurdaspur district near Kalanour.
Farmers whose land is caught between the wire fencing and the IB support the move. At present, the BSF gives them special permission and restricted timings to tend to their fields and they remain under constant surveillance. The system is fraught for both farmers and the BSF who have to keep a track of every person entering the area and exiting it.
BSF Inspector-General Anil Paliwal, who commands the four Punjab sectors – Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Abohar – played down the shifting of the barbed wire fence. He said the process was “not new” and had been going on for some time even before the Dina Nagar incident in other sectors.
He said it had been “completed” in Abohar and in some other parts of other sectors, and it was ongoing in Gurdaspur.
“It is being done both to increase our operational efficiency and for the benefit of farmers whose lands are now caught between the wire fencing and the border,” Paliwal said.
While the international norm for such fencing is about 150 metres from the IB, the 533-km fence on Punjab’s border with Pakistan varies in its distance from the IB according to area and the topography. In some places it could be 500 metres, in some less, in others even a couple of kms.
Paliwal said after the Dinanagar and Pathankot attacks, security in Gurdaspur areas was a priority. He said depth nakas provided an additional tier of BSF security in these areas.
With police and other agencies in the dark about how the infiltrators in both the Dinanagar and Pathankot incidents reached places seven or eight kms from the border where they were first spotted, one of the big security challenges is the monitoring of traffic on the inner roads through villages between Dinanagar and Bamyal.
These pukka roads are a convenient short-cut to Jammu. Hundreds of trucks ferrying sand and gravel and even foodgrain are using these small roads apparently to avoid any checks on the main highway.
The stream of trucks on these narrow roads through village fields is a surprising sight, but villagers said they had got used to it, with the numbers going up dramatically at night.
The Punjab police check-points are in no position to check each and every vehicle on these village roads to see what they are transporting or who is travelling in them. The Indian Express did not see any trucks being checked on these roads. Such an attempt would create unmanageable tailbacks in these villages. Trucks on the highway are stopped for procedural excise paper work, but are not subjected to checks.
With the IB’s vulnerabilities in focus, both BSF and Punjab police have also been upgrading their equipment and enhancing manpower to a huge extent.
There has been a significant increase in the number of Hand Held Thermal Imagers, early warning signal equipment, cameras and other security paraphernilia being used by BSF along the border.
Special measures have also been taken up to monitor the riverine gaps along the zig zag border where Ravi river and its tributary Ujh criss-cross India and Pakistan at many points.
The BSF has also deployed Battle Field Surveillance Radars and CCTV cameras with digital video recording. On their part, Punjab police plans to have bullet-proof tractors, bullet-proof jackets, night vision devices, Vajra vehicles, armoured personnel carriers, bullet-proof “morchas” or sentry points, gas masks and number of other equipment and besides strengthening the infrastructure in police stations in the border districts.
But concerns remain in both forces about their disagreement over the route and entry point of the terrorists. The Punjab Police probe into the attack is now at a dead end. They have no fix yet on the identity of the three men. Eyewitnesses saw the three men walk into the town carrying guns openly, rucksacks on their backs, and a kit bag wound around the arms. Two men together were carrying one big bag between them.
“Somebody must have dropped them upto this point, otherwise there is no way they could have walked all the way from the border with that stuff. It looked too heavy,” said railway gateman Darshan Singh, who saw the men walking from the tracks into the town and thought at first they were Army soldiers.
“I remember one had very short hair and they were wearing army clothes,” Darshan said. He realised something was amiss only after another person spotted bombs on the track and alerted him, and others said they had heard sounds of firing from the town.
The state police had said in the wake of the attack there was no need to hand over the case to the NIA and declared it would conduct the investigation itself. Police investigators have not been able to determine if there was any local help.
The police maintain, on the basis of the co-ordinates fed into one of the GPS devices found on the terrorists, that they infiltrated from near Paharipur and Mastgarh in Bamyal sector, reaching Dinanagar via Makoura and Marara, small settlements in the border area.
“It is on the basis of GPS co-ordinates that we base our assertion about the entry and route taken by terrorists,” said Punjab Director General of Police Suresh Arora.
Police officials associated with the investigation also said gloves with made-in Pakistan labels and a brand of shoes made in Pakistan worn by the attackers, foreign grenades, ammunition and crucially a US-manufactured NATO issue night vision device, buttress their theory that the men came from across the border.
The Border Security Force denies terrorists could have infiltrated from the places mentioned by the police. “We have conducted our own inquiry and found nothing like this. There is nothing to show that terrorists entered from any area being manned by BSF in Punjab,” said BSF IG Paliwal.
Another senior BSF official said given the “infiltration pattern”, the crossover may have even taken place over “Line of Control” in Jammu and Kashmir. He suggested that the terrorists might have fed in wrong co-ordinates to “mislead” investigators.
The concern that this question remains unanswered even one year after the attack is voiced by many, but by none so plaintively as a policeman at Dinanagar police station, the epicentre of 12 hour stand off. “Sir, you have also done your own investigations. Can you tell us what route the terrorists took to reach here, where they entered from?”