A grenade blast outside army cantonment gate in Pathankot, on the intervening night of Sunday and Monday, was not an isolated act of terror. This is a message that much more is behind it, and much more would happen in future, if the things are not taken care of immediately. In fact, this blast, and other acts of terror, are taking place in the country because things were not handled in time. All it needs is a holistic study and response in which the psychology behind these attacks works. The tendency to study each act of terror in isolation, or merely as outcome of the intelligence failure, reflects fragmented approach in which blame-game prevails over thorough investigation and introspection .
This blast outside the army cantonment gate has sent a message that terrorists have come out of shadows in Punjab, and are likely to strike at more places. The place they targeted, said all about their messaging; that they can strike at high security places and escape. It would be a mistake to read it as one-time incident. Sorry, it is not. In fact, it is a result of the repeated failures to take the emerging trends of terrorism seriously.
In the first place, this grenade blast fits into the traditional ways the terrorists strike. Grenade explosion is the easiest thing to do for the under-training terrorists. Such incidents, even if these don’t cause casualties, give them a sense of confidence that they can do bigger acts of terror; though an act of terror is an act of terror, never big or small. Its intensity could be big or small not the intent behind the act. Now a high degree of terrorism is guided through internet rather than physical training, and how that can be put into practice was on display in Mendhar, Poonch forests in Jammu and Kashmir; where army lost nine of its brave men, but the terrorist remain untraced.
This reflects that the menace of terrorism has many dimensions. Intentions are more important than the traditional way of measuring acts of terrorism. India has seen terrorism as big as 26/11 or the assault on the Indian Parliament in December 13, 2001, or the macabre massacre of 40 CRPF personnel in Lethpora, Pulwama, in Kashmir, in February 2019. Or, it could be as simple as hurling of a grenade on a roadside where nothing happens except a big bang and splinters flying here and there. But each one of these is a manifestation of terrorism.
The bigger problem in the country in dealing with terrorism is that the acts of terror are seen through optics, and then we have ready-made sources to blame. The inner flaws are overlooked. In the opening days of 2016, when terrorists mounted a “fidayeen” attack on Pathankot air base and inflicted casualties, waking the nation to the dangers that it is faced with; but that terror attack is yet to find a closure.
The attack was interpreted in three ways: the sabotage of the goodwill generated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Pakistan to improve ties with the neighbouring country by the non-state actors based across the border. There is nothing called non-state actors in Pakistan. It is a deflective strategy where the real culprits seek to play the game through proxies created, nurtured, and trained by them. Experience has shown that these non-state actors were nothing but brand names floated by the deep state in Pakistan.
Here, it is important to note, I am saying it with extra emphasis, for all the critics who often say that Modi is not willing to talk to Pakistan or improve ties with the neighbouring countr,y that his initiatives in having peace in the region by building bridges with neighbouring countries were not responded to by Pakistan.
While they, including five-time chief minister Farooq Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, whose political career and politics is beyond the single-term as Chief Minister, have their argument; if Delhi can talk to China that has intruded into our territory, why cannot we talk to Pakistan, they overlook certain chapters of history.
Second, the intelligence failure about the plans of the terror groups to strike at the airbase. The narco smuggling angle was ignored. There was deeper nexus than was brought out by investigations. And the investigations into the January 2016 attack have not been concluded till date.
Third, there was a sense of complacency, that the terrorists cannot strike at the army establishments in Punjab. No lessons had been learnt from what was happening in Jammu and Kashmir, where the army camps had come under attack several times. There was a single source of these attacks: across the border.
But, to say that there was nothing wrong within, would be denying the reality. The security audits should have been undertaken to identify where the things have gone wrong. Whenever pleas were made, there was a tendency to shift the blame. At best, the height of walls was raised and the barbed wire rolls occupied more space. The need was to put heads together, relate their strategies to the ground situation, psychology of the people and the way it was aligning with the elements of terrorism. No element of terrorism can flourish without the local support, and there always are reasons, ideological motivation or schooling in the idea of extremism. These deserve minute attention. The security forces can play their part in a synchronized manner, more important is that how the mood of the general public is understood. Terrorism is not entirely a military problem, it emanates from distorted psychology. That needs to be taken care of. The fragmented approach, has not worked, nor will it ever.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.