Terror at the end of the tunnel?

The tunnel’s discovery in one of the most heavily policed borders is of special concern in the context of Pakistan’s designs in J&K

The Indo-Pak border in the Jammu region is one of the most heavily policed in the world. So the fortuitous discovery on July 30 of a tunnel from Pakistan crossing into India under the border fencing in the Samba region should certainly set off burglar alarms at all levels.

The underground passage can be assumed to be a smugglers’ tunnel which can obviously be utilised for other purposes as well, particularly clandestine ingress of terrorists from Pakistan to India. The tunnel adds yet another dimension to the state of permanent border alert along the Indo-Pak border, besides raising questions about the adequacy of border surveillance measures on the Indian side.
India considers the Jammu-West Pakistan border as a continuation of the settled international boundary between the two countries, (as distinct from the ceasefire line elsewhere in Kashmir) whereas Pakistan regards this stretch as a “working boundary” with the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, a region whose future is yet to be decided. As a result this has always been a sensitive sector which remains “hot” during war as well as peace.
Immediately after Independence in 1947 and its attendant communal riots throughout Punjab, armed mobs from the neighbouring Sialkot district of West Pakistan had crossed over and interdicted the uneven secondary track between Pathankot and Jammu which ran almost along the border and constituted the sole land link between newly independent India and the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneously, another pincer by Pakistan-sponsored tribesmen invaded the Kashmir Valley, and the Pathankot-Jammu dirt track became a critically important axis for induction and maintenance of Indian forces which had to be rushed overland for the defence of the Jammu region. The dirt track of those days is now the four-lane National Highway No. 1A (NH1A) between Jammu and Pathankot, but it still runs in close proximity to the border and is as vulnerable to interdiction from Pakistan as it was in 1947. The lead agency for border security here is the Border Security Force who are doing their best in spite of being handicapped, as always, by grievous shortages of even basic security equipment in the required numbers, like night-vision devices, image intensifiers, thermal imagers or ground surveillance radars.
The border town of Samba on NH1A mid way between Jammu and Pathankot, where the tunnel was literally unearthed, has always been considered an Achilles’ heel. Road connections emanate from here to the parallel artery of the Dhar-Udhampur road further back in the hills and the whole area forms an ideal playground for infiltrators bent on mischief. Samba has been progressively developed into an important garrison town for the Indian Army, a strong point on the Indo-Pak border where troops have to remain on high alert at all times.
The possibility of conventional war between India and Pakistan may have receded, but the threat of hostile cross-border infiltration in the present scenario continues unchanged and, if anything, has increased. It is, therefore, surprising that the discovery of a clandestine underground passage in this area did not create larger ripples of general disquiet. It is to be hoped that with the passage of time the discovery is not pushed to the outer periphery of government attention.
Published reports indicate the dimensions of the tunnel to be 3x3 feet, in itself a tiny crawl way, but its undetected excavation across one of the most heavily policed borders in the world is of special concern, in the overall context of Pakistan’s designs in Jammu and Kashmir. The BSF undoubtedly maintains a high intensity of patrolling and area surveillance in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in areas like Samba, which are known to be extra sensitive. It is all the more disturbing to learn that the discovery of the tunnel was reported to be entirely fortuitous, and occurred by sheer happenstance due to a partial roof collapse during heavy rains in the area. It raises issues of underground surveillance as part of border management — an aspect which generally does not receive the necessary stress and emphasis.
Border management is a universally problematic issue, even where relations between adjoining countries are positive — the border between the US and Canada is a good example. However, where relations are extremely adversarial, as between India and Pakistan, border management is always a tense affair
and requires to be rigorously enforced at all times.
Reports from foreign countries like the United States indicate that underground surveillance along a border is technologically feasible but is still at the research and development stage, with trial runs of initial prototypes said to be underway along the US-Mexico border. However, if and when the trials are finally successful, the equipment are likely to be very expensive and possibly unaffordable for extensive deployment by countries like India, whose resources are limited.
The Jammu-Pathankot border has always remained prone to incident, amongst which have been the controversial Samba spy case and, perhaps, the most horrific of all, the attack in May 2002 on the Indian military personnel. Three Pakistani infiltrators attacked Army officers’ family accommodations at Kaluchak near Jammu, resulting in the cold-blooded
massacre of a large number of off-duty soldiers and their families, amongst whom were a large number of
children.
The assassins were shot dead but the mystery of their infiltration across the heavily wired and mined Indian border and sudden appearance on the NH1A, at a time when operational locations were fully manned in the aftermath of the attack on the Indian Parliament, have never been comprehensively resolved. It may not be too far-fetched to speculate whether the criminals could have entered through a tunnel similar to the one recently discovered. These are troubling questions, to which no satisfactory answers have yet been found.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former member of Parliament

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