The front wooden door of the Dinanagar police station in Gurdaspur district stands dotted with bullet scars—a mute testimony of the first terror strike in Punjab by three Pakistani fidayeen on July 27 last year.
The cops proudly refer as “wounds” to the bullet marks and the bowl-like hole on the cemented floor near the entry point created by the first hand grenade that the ultras, armed with AK-56 rifles and armour-piercing ammunition, had lobbed to gain entry.
Stunned but not scared, the police and the home guards fought back determinedly with whatever they had and killed the terrorists in the dawn-to-dusk gun battle .
But this attack was a wake-up call to the border state police and its ruling political masters. And, the January 2 Pathankot airbase attack only confirmed the Pakistan’s intent to spread the jihadi arc to the frontier state.
The two back-to-back terror attacks in a span of six months laid bare the gaping holes in the state’s 553-km border with Pakistan, prompting police to draw out a long-term strategy.
“Our objective is to build an effective second line of defence. The focus is on training the cops and equipping them with latest weapons. We have taken necessary steps post-Dinanagar,” HS Dhillon, director general of police (law and order) told Hindustan Times.
Post-Dinanagar siege, the focus was shifted on creating a second line of defence by strengthening internal security apparatus.
For example, 24 cops of the SWAT (special weapon and tactics) underwent four weeks’ training at Nahan base of the Special Forces (1stPara). Four-dozen cops were given “ghatak training” for four weeks in Jalandhar, Pathankot and Zirakpur by different Army units and 15 police personnel were trained in dealing with the explosives.
This has given more muscle power to the SWAT team that currently has just 32 cops.
“We focused on improving training, tactics and shooting skills of the SWAT team. Each SWAT commando is regularly trained in using modern weapons,” an officer of the SWAT team said.
But there has been no progress on deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s lofty promise of setting up another SWAT unit. A proposal was mooted on August 18, 2015, to set up the SWAT unit, which is gathering dust.
Sources say police deployed 24 companies (one company comprises 100 men with operational strength of 78 cops) of the Punjab Armed Battalion in sensitive locations to form the second line of defence. These strike groups equipped with bullet-proof jackets and lethal weapons were placed at Fazilka as well as Narot (Pathankot).
In Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Amritsar grid, another five strike teams—each team having 30 cops—trained by the army are posted. This strike force is not deputed on routine duty.
“We are keeping our powder dry,” Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, deputy inspector general of police (DIG), border range, Amritsar, said. “We are always ready to retaliate with compound interest in case the enemy dares to enter Punjab.”
Another focus has been on intelligence sharing in real time with the army and the BSF. A new State Special Operations Cell (SSOC) is being set up at Fazilka for intensive intelligence generation. The SSOC at Amritsar currently deals with intelligence generation of the complete international border of Punjab. The government has created a post of assistant inspector general (AIG), counter intelligence, for the sensitive Pathankot and Gurdaspur border.
New border police posts have been established for better engagement with residents and to develop intelligence at the grass-roots level. An example is the police post set up at Toor village bordering Pakistan.
“We have put in place a sound mechanism to generate intelligence by establishing close links with the border residents. I have put in place a multi-pronged strategy to generate intelligence and if required, we can hit back without waiting for the reinforcement,” DIG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, said.
To improve the operational efficiency of the force in the wake of twin (Dinanagar and Pathankot) terror strikes, police have placed orders for 777 bullet-proof (BP) jackets and 595 BP ‘patkas’ (headgear).
Tenders have been floated to buy two pieces of ambush-protected vehicle (Casspir) that help in transporting the troops into the gun battle zone. Besides, there are plans to buy 27 armoured vehicles, 24 armoured tractors, 117 night-vision devices, 827 hand held dragon lights, 11 water cannon anti-riot vehicles, 100 hand-held thermal imagers and five micro and five unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“Equipping the force with latest bullet-proof jackets, armoured vehicles, night vision devices and hand-held thermal imagers is underway. The process has begun and it will be completed within this fiscal,” the DIG said.
Most of the equipment will come from abroad.