Punjab acts as a firm base for any operation by the Indian Armed Forces against Pakistan, which adds to the sensitivity of the state from the national security perspective

Recent incidents of explosives being dropped by Pakistani drones in border areas, sacrilege at religious places and bomb explosion in the Ludhiana court cannot be viewed as isolated incidents in a border state like Punjab. That such incidents can be carried out by or on the behest of Pakistan or secessionist elements residing in Pakistan is not surprising, but their timing surely exposes India’s internal fault lines.

Dividing citizens on political, caste and religious alignments has benefitted political parties in this country, which merits immediate attention. Remember, this state went through a very turbulent decade from the early 1980s to the mid-1990s, which included operation ‘Blue Star’ where Army was called to launch an operation using heavy weapons to clear a fortified Golden Temple in Amritsar.

That operation alienated a large part of the Sikh community giving birth to one of the bloodiest insurgencies that lasted the following decade. That period saw the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards, which was followed by thousands of Sikhs being mercilessly murdered in Delhi and some other parts of the country. More than 20,000 people were killed in Punjab during the insurgency including the then chief minister of Punjab Beant Singh, who died in a bomb blast.

Without going into the causes of terrorism in Punjab, it is well known that Punjab is the only Indian state other than Mizoram where an insurgency has been successfully tackled. All stakeholders including the political leadership of that time, the security forces and, above all, the people of Punjab deserve credit for the feat. Having served in Punjab during that period, it was evident that commitment of the people of the state was mainly responsible for Punjab’s return to normal life. Elders in rural Punjab families often disowned children in case the police informed them of their involvement in terrorism, exhibiting their commitment to the restoration of peace and harmony. People of Punjab are progressive who immensely value their freedom and economic growth.

Law and order is a state subject; Army or central security forces when deployed in counter-insurgency roles are required to bring the violence under control to a level where the political process can commence to restore long-term normalcy. It was to the credit of the political leadership of the time that the state adopted the path of economic development the moment law and order situation was brought under control. Moreover, the insurgency can last only if locals support it because militants without local support are like fish without water. People of Punjab chose prosperity and development over the insurgency.

Cessation of violence in Punjab must have come as a big setback to the Pakistan deep state who had extensively supported militancy in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Criminals involved in cross-border smuggling of drugs and weapons found great opportunities in supporting terrorists logistically by providing weapons and ammunition. Having failed in the continuation of militancy in Punjab, Pakistan adopted narco-terrorism as an instrument for the proliferation of drugs in Punjab, which became an alternate tool to weaken India.

To understand the strategic importance of Punjab, it needs to be remembered that Punjab is not another border state but also the granary of the country due to its major contribution towards the nation’s food grain reserves. Historically, the people of Punjab have made disproportionate sacrifices in every war that the country has fought including the freedom struggle, because of which almost every family has a connection with the Indian military, police, or paramilitary forces.

Punjab has highly developed real estate loss of which is not acceptable to the national leadership during any conflict with Pakistan. Moreover, Punjab acts as a firm base for any operation by the Indian Armed Forces against Pakistan, which further adds to the sensitivity of the state from the national security perspective. In the fast-evolving regional security scenario, the line between internal and external security challenges is getting blurred, which further highlights the need for vigilance in such border states.

National security is too important a facet to be left to the security forces alone. Citizens and the civil administration are as much responsible for the nation’s security by playing their role in the desired manner. Political leaders owe it to the citizens to act and speak in an extremely responsible manner. When there is an insurgency in any state, politicians generally speak in a measured tone, however, as the situation improves, they tend to make statements that may help them reap political support not realising that things could sometimes go out of control, as it happened in Punjab during the period prior to Operation Blue Star. Mixing religion with politics is another factor that can disturb the peace by whipping up the passions of the average citizen. It is an unwritten, cruel practice in international relations that an unfriendly neighbour would always take advantage of our internal turmoil.

To make Punjab a fulcrum of national security against our western adversary, first, the political leadership and civil administration must understand Punjab’s strategic importance from the national security perspective. Second, there needs to be a political consensus on all issues of communal harmony and national security. Third, religion and politics must not be mixed. Fourth, drugs and arms smuggling are a direct threat to national security and must be dealt with sternly.

In order to achieve these, besides political will, there is a need for the highest level of coordination between all security agencies, be it the Army, the Border Security Force, or the state police. In the prevailing security scenario, Punjab is too important a state for the country to be allowed to drift in a routine manner, exhibiting fault lines that can be exploited by our adversary. Leadership needs to be cohesive and vigilant to ensure that the state continues to uphold its role in the national security calculus in an exemplary manner.