Akalis: The key to Punjab peace

Apprehensions that after two decades of peace in Punjab, elements in Pakistan are hard at work to destabilize the largely-agrarian state and re-inject terror into it like in the eighties and nineties seem increasingly credible of late. The ISI’s hidden hand is seen in the terrorist attack in Gurdaspur in Punjab, on Monday, resulting in the death of more than a dozen people. The dark chapter in Punjab’s history when terror, fuelled by Pakistan and abetted and perpetrated by misguided separatists, took a toll of thousands of innocent lives is threatening to return if it is not nipped in the bud.

It is not conclusively known how the terrorists who stormed Gurdaspur came from Pakistan—whether they swam across the small stretch of water or dug a tunnel to get across to Indian Punjab— but that they made their entry from enemy territory by escaping the attention or bribing their way through the border is alarming enough.

Army commanders who have combed the area where the terrorists switched on their GPS sets after crossing the border are concerned that large quantities of heroin have been found from the place, giving indications that border defences were being regularly penetrated by drug traffickers. That the three terrorists were dressed in Indian Army Fatigues has become standard practice in such attacks to befool the security agencies. Soon after they came across, they commandeered a Maruti car and drove it to Dinanagar police station in Gurdaspur district where they gunned down a superintendent of police and seven others after a 12-hour firefight. That they were well-equipped with AK-47s, grenades and the like is also no surprise. They would have caused much greater havoc had the bombs they planted on rail track worked.

There is a familiar pattern to Pakistan-inspired terror attacks. The recent peace talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif had evidently rankled the Pak army which then fuelled the terror strike. That the Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, was slated to host the Pakistani envoy, Abdul Basit, was also perhaps motivation enough for the Pakistani army to send out a tough message. That the meeting was then called off is an index of the damage the Pakistani army does to any efforts at Indo-Pak bids to come closer. A pertinent question that arises from the latest misadventure is whether the Pakistani establishment is looking to send in terrorists from across the Punjab border to diversify its activity or because the defences in Jammu and Kashmir are much stronger.

Recent reports suggest an upsurge in the Khalistan movement among the diaspora community.  Suddenly, pro-Khalistan groups are becoming hyper-active again and there is renewed propaganda that in India the Sikhs are being discriminated against. Financial support to fringe separatist outfits in India has also spurted. The growing influence of the Sikh diaspora among political circles in the US can be gauged from the emergence of the first ever American Sikh Congressional Caucus in April 2013 involving over two dozen lawmakers, some of them known for their vocal support to the Khalistan movement in the past.

The real tragedy internally is that Akali Dal, the dominant partner in coalition with the BJP is for various reasons soft on terror or chooses to look the other way when threats are posed by nefarious interest groups that are in cahoots with the subversive elements from across the borders. The Centre is not oblivious of the fact that those who observed the death anniversary of Khalistani militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the 2015 Republic Day as ‘black day’ were indeed testing the waters to revive militancy.

There are grounds to also believe that the drug problem in Punjab which has assumed menacing proportions is a result of the Pakistani establishment’s design to corrupt Punjabi youth in the border districts by rendering them unfit to defend the borders through excessive consumption of drugs by them. All over the border, young men addicted to drugs which come from across the border inject themselves with drugs intravenously and lie drugged in bushes in the jungles. Many of them die untimely deaths.

The BJP is angry with the Akalis but despite its nationalistic credentials does not want to break with the Akalis for fear of losing a key ally at the Centre. It is no secret that many Khalistani terrorists who were involved in brutal killings of people are being eulogized by the Akali Dal, which is now seeking their release. Whether the Akalis support them out of conviction or because they are petrified of them is a moot question but in any case it adds up to an alarming situation.

Early this year, the Akalis submitted a memorandum to Home Minister Rajnath Singh in New Delhi to seek the release of 13 Sikh prisoners who are jailed in other states of the country. The Akalis’ list of terrorists whose release was sought also included Devinder Pal Singh Bhullar, a Khalistani terrorist who has been convicted in the assassination attempt on former Youth Congress President Maninderjit Singh Bitta in 1993. The Badal government got Bhullar shifted to Amritsar jail recently from Tihar in Delhi. The Punjab BJP president Kamal Sharma opposed the move and stated that his party was against any such move which could disrupt peace in the state.

The premature release of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) terrorist Jagtar Singh Hawara and Paramjit Singh Bheora was also sought by the Akalis. Hawara, Bheora and Jagtar Singh Tara had escaped from the Chandigarh’s high security Burail jail in January 2004. Hawara and Bheora had been convicted in the assassination of the late Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh by a human bomb, in a first such attack in India in August 1995.

All in all, an alarming scenario is building up. If the fresh attempts at militancy are not nipped in the bud, there would be hell to pay.

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