The terrorist attack on civilians and a police station in Gurdaspur district might have been the first such serious incident in Punjab in the last two decades, but it is of a piece with the recent violence from across the border in the Jammu region. The border district is situated close to Jammu, and the attackers would have found it a soft target. Any part of India close to the Jammu region could just as easily have been their target. After security was stepped up in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir, militants operating from across the border appear to have been forced to take other routes close to Jammu to carry out assaults. Of late, terrorists have targeted not only army camps but also civilians in Hindu-majority Jammu. Although Pakistan-based militants would like to keep the focus on Jammu and Kashmir, any attack close to the Jammu region would serve their purpose. The Uri-Jalandhar highway runs close to the border with Pakistan at Pathankot near Gurdaspur, and provides access to the Jammu region from a section of the border that is not as heavily guarded as stretches in Jammu and Kashmir. If the Gurdaspur attack signifies anything, it is that militants are ready to shift their targets, and make a mockery of India’s efforts to secure the border districts.
For Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, the immediate challenge it seemed was to counter the impression that the attack had something to do with the demand for Khalistan. That the militants were suicide attackers who were intent on fighting till the very end, unlike the Khalistani militants in the 1980s who predominantly adopted hit-and-run tactics, allowed him to assert that the attack was not an indication of any revival of terrorism in the State. Also, the attackers were reported to have shouted Islamist slogans. However, irrespective of these facts, intelligence agencies have been warning of a rise in pro-Khalistan activity. Last month, the Research and Analysis Wing had sent a report to the Union Home Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office on the “Khalistan liberation movement” finding support in Pakistan, as also in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France and the Maldives. The government needs to take threats from this quarter also seriously. The dastardly attack in Gurdaspur is a major setback to the confidence-building process initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif during their meeting in Ufa earlier this month. There can be no let-up on India’s part in countering acts of aggression from across the border. But attacks such as the latest one should not deter efforts to engage Pakistan in talks. It is crucial that Pakistan be made to realise the futility of nurturing militants on its soil as a strategy against India.
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