After the terrorist attack on Punjab’s Pathankot air force base on Saturday, Himachal Pradesh promptly put its police and security agencies on high alert. Top police officials admit that two successive terrorists attacks in Punjab, such as Gurdaspur and Pathankot, are worrying signals for the ‘peaceful’ state.
Biggest threat to Himachal Pradesh is from terrorists using the state as a safe heaven, especially in the dense mountain valleys of Chamba and Dalhousie – just few kilometers from Pathankot. The location of mega hydel projects and vital security installations, including Gaggal airport (Kangra) and Bhunter (Kullu) in the state are other vulnerable sites.
Also, McLeodganj (Dharamshala), which is the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader Holiness Dalai Lama is another most protected place from the security point of view in Himachal Pradesh. State’s Director General of Police Sanjay Kumar admits that Himachal Pradesh had to undertake special measures on Friday night after incident involving Punjab SP ‘s car-jacking was reported.
“We are told to watch-out movement of some suspicious men (number unknown), who were heading towards Pathankot. The police acted in full promptness and sealed all the borders and entry points with Punjab. Night patrolling was introduced and intensive checking was started at barriers,” he said.
Pathankot, which is barely 5 kms from Himachal Pradesh border, has increased the fears for the state agencies, which till now had only been focusing on Chamba borders for Pakistani-trained Kashmiri militants. Chamba border stretching about 214 kms alongwith Doda, Kishtwar and Kathua and currently guarded by Himachal Pradesh armed police, after the centre had withdrawn ITBP posted there earlier.
However, Kumar said, “We are prepared to meet any threat and necessary precautions have already been taken plus some assistance had also been sought from the centre, apart from a close coordination with intelligence agencies in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir. Yet, no body can sit in complacency since Himachal Pradesh is also not far from the borders with Pakistan and also Kathua, Samba etc in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Himachal Pradesh had witnessed its worst terrorists attack in August 1998 when 35 civilians, mainly labourers, were massacred by the Pakistan-trained militants in Kalaban and Satrundi areas of Chamba under Tissa police station.
Prior to this, militants who were using Chamba border as a safe heaven had also kidnapped some local shepards using them as porters. There were also terror-related incidents when two Armed Police personnel were killed in an ambush in 2003 and later two persons were killed in Rohini in Tissa area in 2005, recalled a police officer who had served in Chamba.
Former DGP I D Bhandari, who was IGP (North) at Dharamshala when the 1998 terrorists attack took place, admits, “More than half of Pathankot air base station is located in Himachal Pradesh. We can’t ignore the happenings in Punjab whether they had attacked police establishments or army/airforce base.There can be a surprise for Himachal Pradesh because terrorists can’t be bound by boundaries. They can strike anywhere. Let’s not be complacent,” he advised.