The terrorist strike on the frontline Indian Air Force base at Pathankot early on Saturday is the second major ‘made-in-Pakistan’ attack to take place in Punjab’s Gurdaspur-Pathankot belt in the last six months.
The latest incident is an uncanny replay of the modus operandi in the Dinanagar terror episode in Gurdaspur district on July 27 last year. Three Pakistan-origin terrorists of the Lashkar-e-Taiba group had crossed over from the international border and attacked a local police station that time.
Ten persons, including the Gurdaspur superintendent of police, were killed in the 12-hour-long operation that killed all the heavily-armed terrorists who were equipped with two GPS devices and night vision devices with US army marking.
Dinanagar is barely 20 km from Pathankot, which is located on the tri-junction of Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh and has a big army cantonment and an air base.
Saturday’s episode fits into a pattern of deadly cross-border terror attacks on the Gurdaspur-Pathankot-Jammu axis in last 14 years. In fact, NH-44, the main artery that connects Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir and runs parallel to the international border, has come to be known as the ‘highway of terror’.
Here is why Gurdaspur-Pathankot belt is vulnerable to terrorist strikes:
Though a large portion of the India-Pakistan border on the 553-km Gurdaspur-Jammu sector is fenced, there are several gaps caused by the Ravi river and season rivulets that cut into the international boundary. Gurdaspur shares a long, zig-zagging border with Pakistan. It’s easy to infiltrate from this stretch as compared to the heavily-mined and guarded Line of Control as well as the international border in neighbouring Jammu and Kashmir. A dense fog in winters makes border surveillance an added challenge.
Watch: IAF choppers in action as Pathankot air force base attacked
Proximity to Pakistan
As the border terrain is broken and forested, the rivulet beds provide an ideal cover for terrorists who can sneak in and reach the busy NH-44 highway that snakes along the border. This enables terrorists to hijack vehicles and mount rapid strikes. In almost all terror attacks, militants used snatched vehicles to attack the intended targets, mostly catching security forces off-guard.
The Gurdaspur-Pathankot-Jammu highway is dotted with a large number of defence installations including cantonments, air force base and ammunition dumps. As the only lifeline between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India, the highway witnesses a heavy movement of army convoys and also movement of pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine in Kashmir. Most terror attacks so far have been on the army camps and police stations along the highway.
The Pakistan-based terror groups are known to use the frontline posts of Pakistan Rangers on the international border as launch pads for terrorists. They use it as an alternative route to push terrorists into the Indian territory.