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Gurdaspur Attack: Is India well equipped to deal with terror?

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Gurdaspur-Attack

By Aishwarya Nag Choudhury

Terrorists attacked Punjab’s Dinanagar Police Station in Gurudaspur district in the early hours of July 27, killing six and injuring as many as eighteen people. Among the deceased were SP detective Baljeet Singh, two home guards, a policeman, and three civilians. The attack that started at 5.30 am continued for twelve hours, until the police and the security neutralized the threat by killing all the three terrorists.

The terrorists were holed up in a sanitation site in a vacant building adjacent to Dinanagar police station. The MHA report reveals that the militants were heavily armed with 2 GPS, 3 AK-47, 10 magazines, and 2 China made grenades. The MHA further suspects that the assailants belonged to the extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed. The terrorists struck a civilian bus and showered it with bullets. They attempted to attack the health center and then targeted the residential complex of the Police station and hurled grenades before open firing on the police station. The local police said that the terrorists attacked a roadside shop, killing a vendor before fleeing in a Maruti 800 which had a Punjab registration.

Additionally in a nearby train track, a set of five bombs were located, suggesting a series of pre-planned attacks to mark the anniversary of a near-war between India and Pakistan in 1999. Fortunately, even though a train passed at 5.15 am, the bombs did not explode due to wiring problems, said Deputy SP of Police (Pathankot) Prabhjot Singh Virk. However, the IEDs were not diffused until the Bomb Disposal Unit arrived from Jalandhar. Army commandos and a Quick Response Team (QRT) were also summoned.

Is India properly equipped to deter terrorist attacks? Are we safe?

Though the three terrorists were killed in the combat, and one left injured, the question remains: Is India equipped to deter terror attacks? After all, this unforeseen event claimed six lives and left many injured.

The Prime Minister met Union Minister Manohar Parrikar, Arun Jaitley, and Venkaiah Naidu to discuss the security situation of the country. Thereafter, security along the border with Pakistan has been tightened. Jitendra Singh, a junior minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office, said to the media that he did not rule out Pakistan’s involvement.

“There have been earlier reports of Pakistan infiltration and cross-border mischief in this area,” said Singh, whose constituency is in the Jammu region bordering Gurdaspur. The attack in Punjab was eerily similar to attacks in the border belt of Jammu, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said on twitter. “Will be very interested to see what emerges about the identity of the terrorists involved in the Gurdaspur attack this morning,” he tweeted. Rajnath Singh spoke to the head of the Security Force and gave instructions to increase the vigil of India.

Terrorism is a global threat, the combat of which is imperative for the security of all nations. However, in the case of a country like India, which has been the victim to many unfortunate attacks in the past, the level of security and vigilance has to be increased.

Of the total allocation for defense for 2015, the army will get Rs 1,04,158.95 crores, the navy Rs 15,525.64 crores, the air force Rs 23,000.09 crores, the ordnance factories Rs 2,884.23 crores, and the Defense Research and Development Organizations Rs 6,570.09 crores. The remaining amount of Rs 94,588 crores has been allotted on the capital account for the acquisition of modern weapon systems, including initial payments for 126 multi-mission, medium-range combat aircraft, 197 light helicopters, and 145 Ultra-light Howitzers, among others. Even after ample funds, the security of the country can be questioned. Neither the Bomb Disposal Unit, nor the Commandos of the QRT could reach on time. Moreover, the local police were not adequately armed to combat the terrorists and thus the gunfight continued for over ten hours.

The attack on Punjab just after the celebration of Kargil Diwas raises doubts about the credibility of security in the country, just as it did during the Mumbai attacks. With the death of civilians, one may ask – does our territory guarantee our safety? Or is India going to be the relentless victim of global terror attacks in the years to come?

The attack on Punjab also altered foreign relations which India holds with other nations. The attack took place in the aftermath of the Modi-Sharif talks at Ufa, Russia. The two leaders spoke about reviving their stalled dialogue that would help accelerate the trial in the Mumbai 26/11 attack case. However, Pakistan is being suspected to be involved in the Punjab attacks, and this has strained the relations between the two countries.

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Emergence of Radical Political Groups Raises Concern in Pakistan

Concerns are being voiced about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

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Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
Rising concerns in Pakistan regarding radical terrorist groups establishing themselves as political parties. VOA
  • Tension in Pakistan increasing due to emergence of Radical Political Groups.
  • Extremist groups are gaining a footing in Country’s politics.
  • According to reports, goverment’s efforts are not enough to stop the emerging radicalism in Pakistan.

Concerns are being voiced in Pakistan about how a few radical groups with proven terror ties have been allowed to re-brand themselves as political parties.

Taj Haider, one of the prominent and founding members of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has been in power five times since 1970, told VOA the country is again seeing the trend of extremist groups camouflaging themselves to enter into politics.

“Religion and politics cannot go hand in hand, but unfortunately this is our new reality. We have seen the recent by-elections in Lahore and Peshawar where militant-turned-political parties were able to mobilize people and gather votes,” Haider said. “And these so-called new political parties, with proven terror records, look determined to contest the upcoming elections in 2018.”

In a recent high-level party meeting presided by PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of Pakistan’s slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the government was sharply criticized on its inability to forcefully implement the National Action Plan and bar proscribed groups from entering the political sphere.

The National Action Plan is a 20-point strategy devised to combat extremism in 2015 that clearly states no banned groups can operate in the country by changing their names or identity.

Analysts say many other political parties are also agitated and wary about the recent political dynamic that has allowed radicalized groups to enter the political arena.

“The government has repeatedly said it will not allow the hardliners to enter into politics, but the reality is different, these parties are going into masses,” Rasul Baksh Raees, a prominent analyst from Pakistan told VOA.

“As long as these proscribed groups stick to their extreme ideologies and violence, they will be a danger to the society and democracy itself.”

Hafiz Saeed
Hafiz Saeed, head of the Pakistani religious party. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

PPP’s acute criticism came as Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), inaugurated the office of his newly launched political party Milli Muslim League (MML) in the eastern city of Lahore.

Pakistan’s Election Commission rejected MML’s party registration application in October, citing its link to Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a U.S. designated terror-sponsoring organization.

But MML looks determined to contest the upcoming state and provincial elections. The party has several offices, has launched a website, and has a social media team spreading its messages through Facebook and Twitter.

Pakistan’s government has repeatedly emphasized it will not tolerate any political party with a proven record of promoting violence and terrorism to use democracy and political means to spread their extreme ideologies.

But critics still say the government is not doing enough to stop radical groups from entering politics.

“Look what happened in Lahore’s recent by-election and who can forget the power show by extremists on the roads of Islamabad. The government was totally helpless,” Raees said.

During the Lahore election in September, a MML backed independent candidate secured the fourth position in the race. The by-election was also contested by Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TeL), another extremist religious party created to carry-on Mumtaz Qadri’s mission, the bodyguard who killed Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer in 2011 after he had demanded reforms in the controversial blasphemy law. Mumtaz Qadri was later sentenced to death.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

In November, thousands of followers of the Islamist group Tehreek-e-Labaik blocked Islamabad roads for weeks and demanded the resignation of Law Minister Zahid Hamid, after accusing him of blasphemy. The government eventually surrendered to hardliners’ demands after Pakistan’s military played the role of mediator.

The experts say the emerging trend of politicizing militancy is a danger to democracy. They also point out the sectarian and hardline rationale will further complicate the situation in the country that has been trying to combat terrorism for more than a decade.

“Imagine when these hardliners, through political parties, will spread their extreme views on the grassroots level. What will be the future of this country?” Raees said.

But some politicians dismiss the blending of radicalized groups into politics. Haider believes the people of Pakistan can differentiate between politicians and extremists and will not allow militant-turned-politicians to thrive.

“If you look at the past, the religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami [an old religious party], despite having a huge following, were never able to clean sweep or get majority in the electoral process of the country,” said Haider.

“Even now, with all these efforts, I believe Milli Muslim League or Tehreek-e-Labaik will not be able to pull large numbers during the general elections. Religious or sectarian votes are scattered in the country and can’t be unified and will not help these newly established political parties to win a prominent number of seats.” VOA