Attack on Pathankot Air Force Base: Terrorism linked to Drug Trade
by Shelley Kasli on 06 Jan 2016 1 Comment
On January 1, Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh was kidnapped and his car hijacked at gunpoint at Jammu-Pathankot national highway on his way back home around 4 pm by heavily armed persons wearing army uniforms. A Red Alert was issued and a massive search operation launched into the incident to apprehend the culprits.


Later, on Jan. 2, using the same hijacked vehicle, the terrorists entered the Pathankot air base, located 50 kilometers from the border with Pakistan and 200 kilometers from state capital Chandigarh, wearing military uniform. Pathankot is important as it is the first line of air defense against any attack from Pakistan. It’s a MiG 21 airbase and also has an Army division.


The media have already started raising questions relating the attack to the apparent improvement in Indo-Pak relations. The Hindu reported,

“The attack is the first reality check for Modi’s efforts to reach out to Pakistan, and the global community would be watching closely how the masculine NDA government in New Delhi will react to the attack. Evidence of the terrorists coming in from Pakistan would not be difficult to find. But will it be enough to blame the Pakistan establishment, and call off peace efforts?”


The pattern of terrorists sneaking in from Pakistan and launching attack on high profile targets within hours of infiltration has been a new pattern for the last couple of years. In July 2015 a similar attack was launched in Gurudaspur by terrorists who came in from across the border.


However, contrary to what Josy Joseph of The Hindu, who echoed claims by the Punjab Police that the terrorists had come from Pakistan side of the border, the Border Security Force (BSF) refuted these assertions. The BSF Inspector General of Police (Punjab Frontier) Anil Paliwal said they had physically checked the entire Punjab border area, but there was not a single evidence to establish that the terrorists had used the Punjab border to enter Indian territory from the Pakistan side.


Punjab Police had claimed after its initial investigation that the river area along the Indo Pak border of Punjab was used for entry; as per fresh reports the case is all set to be transferred to the National Investigation Agency, despite the state police’s reservations.


In the Gurdaspur attack, when sub-divisional magistrate Manmohan Singh Kang probed the attack on Dinanagar police station on July 27, 2015, and submitted his report to Gurdaspur district magistrate Abhinav Trikha, the latter rejected it on the ground that it concluded nothing and was merely a bundle of statements. He asked the SDM to conduct a fresh inquiry into the incident, revealing all the facts about it. A new report was submitted in November 2015.


Then there was a controversy over the ‘Made in Pakistan’ tag and two Global Positioning System (GPS) devices recovered from the terrorists; the investigation shifted to where the terrorists came from and how they entered the country. Some days later, the police claimed that doctors found a glove on one hand of the terrorists, carrying the marking “Made in Pakistan”. This claim was questioned as the police did not find the glove on the first day when they conducted a body search.


Anyway, on the basis of the marking “Made in Pakistan” and the GPS coordinates, the Indian Government took up the matter with Pakistan on why and how three terrorists came to India from its soil. But the security agencies failed to piece together a final report on the route taken by the terrorists based on the coordinates fed into the two GPS devices seized from them.



According to a survey conducted by the Department of Social Security Development of Women and Children, 67 per cent of rural households in Punjab have at least one drug addict. The reason for this growing dependency on drugs is militancy and politics under the shadow of a flourishing international drug trade.


Shashi Kant, former ADGP (intelligence), said the recent Pathankot attack showed a link between militancy and drug trade in Punjab. “Drug money is used in financing militancy. To check militancy we will also have to control the drug problem. But the trade is flourishing because of the alleged involvement of politicians, bureaucrats and police officers.” Shashi Kant had in 2014 submitted a list of politicians with suspected drug mafia links to the Punjab and Haryana High Court after his earlier letter was admitted as a public interest litigation.


Kant claimed it was a four-page list, prepared by the intelligence department in 2007, and he gave it to the Chief Minister. He alleged that the list was kept under wraps and little action taken as the political careers of those named continued to thrive.


Apparently politicians not only offer drugs to voters during elections but also get money for elections by selling drugs in connivance with drug lords. Jagdish Singh Bhola, a suspended DSP and Arjuna awardee (wrestler-turned-drug peddler) who was arrested for masterminding a Rs 700 crore drug racket, had made a startling revelation in 2014 that the then Punjab Revenue Minister was also involved in the multi-crore drug trafficking racket. Investigations revealed that state government vehicles were used for smuggling drugs. Patiala Senior Superintendent of Police Hardial Singh Mann established that the arrested smugglers had funded Assembly elections in Punjab.


Raja Kandhola was another drug smuggler arrested by Delhi police from Doraha in Punjab where he was running a ‘factory’ to manufacture synthetic drugs. The names of many Punjab police officers surfaced during investigation but the case was finally hushed up.


While dealing with a 2012 appeal by the Centre against the acquittal of some suspected drug peddlers by the Punjab & Haryana High Court, a startling revelation that came to light was that only 10 per cent of seized drugs were destroyed by cops. The Supreme Court noted that what is burnt in the garb of destruction of seized drugs was nothing but “cow dung”. The court said illicit drugs worth crores seized every year re-entered the market surreptitiously, sold by lower-level staff in the agencies. Many psychiatrists have claimed that Punjab police are pressuring them to reveal drug patients’ identities.


Now the Punjab Police itself is fighting an internal drug war. 50 per cent of the Punjab Police are alleged to be drug addicts. Special committees have been formed for their treatment. Many senior cops have admitted that there is a battle within to fight the drug trade and secret inter-departmental letters are circulated warning drug addicts in the force. It is because of this intra-war that we have conflicting reports from the Border Security Force and the Punjab Police regarding the route taken by the terrorists and the collected evidence itself.


Some years ago, the Australian federal police detected a consignment of rice from Amritsar with heroin and Ice (a synthetic drug) in large quantity. Australian, US and Canadian governments through Interpol and CBI built pressure for arrests. The case came to a dead end when the names of some ministers were revealed during interrogation.


Punjab has for many years been a transit point for drugs from Afghanistan. The smugglers supply and receive consignments via villages bordering Pakistan. The Indian smugglers pay Rs 1 lakh for a period of six months to the owner of a field where the Pakistan smugglers leave the consignments. As the fence is electrified, smugglers use a large size plastic pipe to drop the narcotics (mostly heroin) from the Pakistan side to the Indian side.


The drug money has become a major source of funding of elections in Punjab and over time a well-organised drug cartel has come into existence with active connivance of politicians, police officers and drug lords. Youth in Punjab is hooked to drugs and a generation spoiled. Besides being a big consumer of drugs, Punjab is a major producer of drugs. About 40 to 50 percent of synthetic drugs manufactured in Punjab are supplied to North America, UK and Europe.



True to precedent, every time relations between India and Pakistan begin to improve and initiatives are taken to normalize ties between the two countries, a terror attack is witnessed and the delicate relationship strained. What forces are at work behind this and why have we not been able to identify these forces? A good strategic partnership between the two neighbors would mean a strong and stable subcontinent, an idea worth investing in.

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