The explosion that killed six people and injured scores of others in a packed cinema hall in Ludhiana on Sunday suggests that terrorists are choosing soft targets to confuse security agencies. From all accounts, hundreds of people — mainly poor migrant workers — were crammed into the ill-fated theatre to watch the late-night screening of a new movie when the bomb went off. The intent was clearly to inflict heavy casualties by triggering a blast in a crowded place and traumatise the local population. Although it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, it is not improbable that terror cells of the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) could have carried out this dastardly act. Several such cells are believed to be trying to re-activate in Punjab, using their links across the border in Pakistan as well as with other terrorist outfits elsewhere.
It cannot be ruled out either that the blast could be part of the serial terrorist strikes that have haunted the subcontinent of late, considering that it followed close on the heels of last Thursday’s explosion at the Sufi shrine of Ajmer in Rajasthan that killed two people. These outrages could also be aimed at the next meeting of the Indo-Pakistan Joint Mechanism on Terror, which is round the corner. If there’s anything more unfortunate than the tragic loss of life, it is the helplessness of the state police and central security agencies that are caught completely off-guard every time. In this particular case, it is no excuse that terror strikes have almost faded from memory in Punjab since the last major incident 12 years ago — the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh by a suicide bomber in Chandigarh. After all, it was barely a couple of years ago that Punjab-based terrorist groups like the BKI were found to have been involved in the twin bomb blasts in cinema halls in Delhi. Terrorists being more ideologically than geographically based, they often instigate terror on their own. Gathering this intelligence remains one of the greatest challenges, which, sadly, our agencies don’t seem to be able to address at all.
Security agencies must give up their fire-fighting tradition of combating terror and work out more prophylactic measures. Otherwise, no matter how many safety precautions are proposed and implemented, serious vulnerabilities will continue to be ominously exposed. As happened in Ludhiana last weekend.