September 29, 2022

Terror threats against India: The changing equations

Terrorism in India, Source: Wikipedia

The changing strategic threats and dynamics need proper policy initiations for both country’s border and internal securities

By Shibdas Bhattacharjee

India has faced terrorism evolving with larger intensity, and its institutionalisation because of State policies of some countries. Terrorism is a global menace today. However, obvious differences are there between insurgency against India and rest of the world. Terror against other nations is mostly byproduct of their policies. In India’s context, it is geo-strategic proximity with the countries like Pakistan, China, Myanmar and others. Islamabad has nurtured a biased anti-India sentiment so far and kept on feeding this Pakistani people. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is taking forward the legacy of country’s first Prime Minister Jinnah. Decades ago, Pakistan gifted China a part of Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir (POK), Imran has virtually sold Pakistan to China. Beyond the hype of “China-Pakistan relationship is taller than Himalaya and deeper than sea” there are staggering Pakistani masses converted into slaves of China.

Another point that bears great significance is underworld gangsters. In fact, underworld gangsters executed plans as per directives of the terror masterminds residing in Pakistan. Recent incidents have proved this yet again. I am talking about the joint action by Punjab police’s Organised Crime Control Unit (OCCU) and West Bengal’s Special Task Force (STF) that killed two gangsters of Punjab; Jaipal Singh Bhullar and Jaspreet Singh in Kolkata on June 9. The incident took place at flat No-201 of B-153 Tower of Sukhabristi Abasan; a residential enclave at Newtown area in Kolkata. Police recovered Rs seven lakh cash, five improvised arms, 89 rounds of live ammunition, mobile phones, about 60 fake identity cards, fake driving licenses, vehicle registration documents, laptop, essentials to make fake Aadhaar card, ‘SIM BOX’ and others from that flat after the encounter.

Experts say that ‘SIM BOX’ is a modern technology that provides facility of using multiple SIM cards and make phone calls in Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) gateway. SIM BOX shows international call as local call. In another incident, Border Security Force (BSF) arrested Han Junei; a Chinese cyber-hacker in Malda district of West Bengal on June 10 and Han’s business partner Sun Jiang and 16 others from Lucknow. Police recovered from Han currency of India, Bangladesh and United States, several SIM cards of different nations, money transfer machines, several ATM cards and others. Interrogations revealed that Han owns illegally run hotel ‘Star Spring’ in Gurugram near Delhi. Police found the racket led by Han associated with smuggling of Indian SIM cards to China, cyber and financial fraud cases and transfer of confidential data from India to China. 

Jaipal Singh Bhullar and Jaspreet Singh were most wanted gangsters of Punjab. Punjab police had announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for Bhullar and Rs five lakh for Jaspreet. Bhullar and Jaspreet had more than 45 cases of murder, extortion, kidnapping, robbery and smuggling in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan including robbing Rs 1.33 crore from an ATM refill van and 30kg gold from a financial institute in Ludhiana. Bhullar and Jaspreet killed two assistant sub-inspectors of Punjab police; Bhagwan Singh and Dalwinderjeet Singh in Ludhiana district on May 15. Since then they were on the run and Punjab police were tracing them. Police got important inputs about the two fugitives during this time. Punjab police arrested some associates of Bhullar; Baljinder Singh alias Babbi, Darshan Singh and Lucky Rajput alias Lucky. So also, West Bengal Special Task Force (STF) got inputs about Bhullar and Jaspreet after seizing an arms-loaded truck on its way from Munger (Bihar) to Kolkata and arrested the truck driver and helper in Birbhum district. Bengal police also arrested an arms-smuggler named Dhrita from Birbhum. Significantly, both Punjab and West Bengal police created a chain with the confessions made by arrested criminals and intelligence inputs to find out the hideout of Bhullar and Jaspreet.

Bhullar and Jaspreet

Bhullar and Jaspreet reaching Kolkata and living as tenants in Newtown area is no less than a Hollywood thriller or web-series. Let me elaborate the puzzling inputs shared by police and media a bit. Police investigations revealed suspicions regarding the owner, tenant, broker, land-dealer and actual inhabitant of the flat where Bhullar and Jaspreet had been residing since May 23. As per document of the Complex, owner of the flat is Sabbir Ali Mollah; a resident of Bihar. But in the agreement copy signature of the owner is Akbar Ali. Investigations revealed that Akbar Ali won the flat in a lottery held 10 years ago when the flat was built. However, registration book shows Sabbir Mollah as the actual owner of the flat till date.

However, the flat was not rented in the name of Bhullar or Jaspreet. Police found the name Sumit Kumar as the tenant of the flat. The search for Sumit Kumar started from the source of one Anil Duggar’s phone no.  Thus, Anil Duggar’s name got associated with the case along with Sumit Kumar and Bharat Kumar. As per initial police reports Sumit Kumar’s actual name is Bharat Kumar; a resident of Ludhiana and an old associate of Bhullar. Earlier, police believed that Bharat Kumar used the name of Sumit Kumar to conceal his real identity. But after the arrest of Sumit Kumar from Mohali on June 11 new revelation came; this confirmed that Sumit Kumar and Bharat Kumar are two different individuals. Later on, police arrested Bharat Kumar from Gwalior. After the arrest, Sumit Kumar confessed before the police that he had given his passport, Aadhaar card and other documents to Bharat Kumar and a third person. This third person may be Anil Duggar but it is yet to be confirmed. There are two important points; Bhullar and Jaspreet getting a rented flat in Kolkata and the criminals reaching there. This story is very interesting. As per reports, after killing two ASIs of Punjab police on May 15, Bhullar and Jaspreet needed a safer place to hide. They assigned this task to Bharat Kumar. Bharat Kumar arranged a shelter for the gangsters in Madhya Pradesh. However, they did not find Madhya Pradesh safe for them. Hence, Kolkata connection Bharat Kumar came to the fore.

According to police sources, Bharat Kumar married Piyali; a resident of Charu Market area of ​​Kolkata. As his father-in-law’s house is in Kolkata, Bharat often comes to the city. To get a rented flat in Kolkata, Bharat contacted one Saurav Kumar; associated with land business in Newtown area of Kolkata. Bharat Kumar introduced himself as Sumit Kumar. Saurav Kumar gave Bharat Kumar the contact no of a broker named Sushanta Saha.  Bharat Kumar met Sushanta Saha accordingly as Sumit Kumar. Sushanta Saha contacted Akbar Ali, the owner of the Flat and made the deal final with Akbar Ali. On May 22, Bharat Kumar signed the agreement as Sumit Kumar and became tenant of the flat. Bharat Kumar paid Rs. 15 thousand as rent and 25 thousand as advance. But later on, during the interrogation, Akbar Ali told that he did not know the tenant and the broker. On the other hand, Punjab police also interrogated Bharat’s wife Piyali. Piyali confessed that Bharat had been in Kolkata for a fortnight in May and she went to Kolkata on May 20 last to meet Bharat. They celebrated their wedding anniversary in a hotel in Kolkata. On May 26, Piyali returned to Punjab. Bharat stayed in Kolkata. According to police, Bhullar and Jaspreet were also with Bharat in the hotel at that time. Meanwhile, name of Amarjit Singh; a Punjab police constable found involved in this racket. Police seized Amarjit Singh’s identity card from Bharat and found evidence that the criminals used Amarjit Singh’s identity card at the toll plazas while travelling from Punjab to Kolkata. Punjab police interrogated Amarjit Singh in this case too. 

Suspense is yet to over. How did Bhullar and Jaspreet reach Kolkata? According to the investigation reports, gangsters came to Kolkata with Bharat Kumar by a car having West Bengal Registration No; WBO2-4500R which helped them entering Bengal and reaching Kolkata without facing much difficulty. As per media reports, while arresting Bharat, police recovered a car bearing West Bengal registration No.But was it the car by which Bhullar and Jaspreet reached Kolkata? This is yet to be confirmed. Police reports further stated that on their way to Kolkata, the gangsters and Bharat took a mobile SIM card from Pingla, West Midnapore in the name of some Akash Pal, which they used in the name of Sumit Kumar later on.

As investigation progressed, police got new inputs.  Sources revealed that police learned two women spending night in the flat of the gangster on June 7. CCTV footage confirmed this. Police identified a Punjabi restaurant located nearly 2.5 kilometers away from the complex, which delivered food to Bhullar and Jaspreet through online booking. One Prashanta was the delivery boy. Police interrogated Prashanta and owner of the Punjabi restaurant later on. Police started investigating about who the two women were. Why did they come to the flat? What was their connection with Bhullar and Jaspreet? On the other hand, Punjab police sources confirmed that Sumit Kumar is not innocent as has been thought so far. Sumit and Bharat, both are associated with trafficking arms and drug smuggling operated from various parts of India. They are also related to smuggling of SIM cards and their links with multiple gangs in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan establishments.

One of the significant aspects of the entire episode is: India’s fight against gangsters, smugglers, drug and illegal trafficking and more importantly gangsters keeping connection with anti-India elements of Pakistan and China is not confined into tracing Dawood Ibrahim and his D-Company. Bhullar seems to be new incarnation of Dawood. In fact, in social media Bhullar expressed his desire to become someone like Dawood. Apart from illegal and anti-India activities, Bhullar and Dawood have one similarity; both are sons of police personnel. Dawood’s father Ibrahim Kaskar was the head Constable of Mumbai Police, Bhullar’s father Bhupinder Singh is a retired assistant sub-inspector of Punjab police.

Commando operation killing two gangsters proves two points. One is West Bengal becoming safe haven for criminals, terrorists and arms smuggling. Other one is efficiency of the West Bengal STF and Punjab OCCU completing operation without any civilian causality. After all, the encounter took place in crowded complex during daytime. This shows professionalism of the police forces of Punjab and West Bengal. However, the important point is: strategic implications of all these. The Punjab gangsters travelled nearly 1550 kilometers through Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand to reach Kolkata from Ludhiana. Criminals with arms travelling this long way and crossing different police check-posts and toll-plazas show serious security lapses; existing security mechanism to restrict illegal trafficking and road security. Bhullar and Jaspreet were not ordinary criminals. Their connection with the terror network of Pakistan as well as some elements of Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan shows the gravity of the situation. During the search, investigating officials recovered a bag written in Urdu and a packet with address of Karachi. All these indicate Pakistani connection of the gangsters. More so, a Chinese national entering India from Bangladesh to hack cyber network of India, running Hotel business in a place like Gurugram near India’s capital city for the last three years; all prove serious security lapses. So also, name of Munger as the hub of arms-factory has appeared repeatedly in this context. Then what were Bihar, Jharkhand and central administrations doing so far regarding illegal arms business run from Munger? One cannot ignore the probability of existence of more such arms producing factories in other places adjoining Munger.

Building complex where shootout occurred in Kolkata

Similarly, along with regions called Jungle-Mahal of West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand have been vulnerable for Left-winged extremism. Also Chhattisgarh, the adjacent state of Madhya Pradesh where Bhullar and Jaspreet took shelter before coming to Kolkata; there is potential threat from Maoist insurgency. But this is surprising and unfortunate that despite these factors, administrations and the media did not raise the issue of illegal arms-business run from Munger prominently. Can India undermine such serious things related to country’s security? India’s Pakistan-centred strategy has always ignored border security of eastern and northeastern frontiers and the larger strategic significance. It was no exception this time.

In the given time New Delhi-Dhaka relations seem productive. Relationship with Bhutan is also steady one. Some improvements happened in case of relationships with Nepal as well. But this does not ensure India’s border security. Fact is: in the entire neighbourhood of India, there are certain radical and ideologically biased anti-India elements. Dhaka, Kathmandu and Thimphu do not have control on these elements or what goes on in the border region. Therefore, whatever be the shape of diplomatic relations, there should be no compromise with border surveillance. Reality is: Kolkata shoot-out and arrest of the Chinese nationals show some points evidently, security lapses in roadways, administrative failures to dismantle arms business and fragile border vigilances.

Question arises regarding people living in rented flats. Here in this case, the owner does not know the tenant of his flat. The tenants do not know the owner. The owners of the flats do not check or verify the documents of the tenant. Do the police check the documents of the newcomers at all? As per rule, tenant should submit documents to the owner of the flat, Housing Society of the Complex and local police.  Even if the contract between the owner and tenant extends, they should inform the local police. Have all these formalities maintained in case of Newtown Complex? Answer is no. After the shootout of two dreaded criminals of Punjab having terror connection with Pakistan, lot of questions come to the fore regarding existing security structure of the Complexes not only in Newtown but other parts of Kolkata.

Throughout Newtown, many people from different states of India and even other countries have bought flats through brokers. The brokers bring tenants in these flats. But there is no Housing Society as central organisation for all types of flats in the Complex where encounter took place. That means, there is virtually no mechanism to verify or keep watch on tenants. Bhullar and Jaspreet availed this opportunity. According to information from the media sources, police arrested some tenants for criminal activities from the same complex earlier as well. Police say flat owners and maintenance agencies of Newtown do not submit documents related to tenants. Picture is same in case of other parts in Kolkata. Media reports stated that the officials of the two municipalities have admitted that they do not have the infrastructure to track on tenants living in the city.

If this is the approach of the civil society in an important city like Kolkata, this indicates magnitude of threat. Flat culture has evolved across India. This means, because of the absence of proper security and surveillance mechanism, incident like hiding criminals in flats can happen in other Indian cities as well. How can police trace and track someone involved with criminal activities making flats of the metros as base? Indian cities are densely populated. It is impossible to keep watch on every dweller. Who knows, availing this opportunity terror outfits residing in safe havens in such flats in different Indian cities? Indian cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Patna, Ahmadabad, Bangalore, Malegaon, Nagpur, Pune, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ludhiana, Varanasi, Guwahati, Gaya and others witnessed terror attacks including Indian Parliament. Terror attack happened in Kolkata and erstwhile West Bengal as well like 1993 Bowbazar bombing, 2010 Silda camp attack and 2013 Jalpaiguri bombing. The Newtown encounter refreshes the memory of bomb blast in a rented house at Khagragarh in West Bengal’s Burdwan district in 2014 and involvement of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) in that.  

Who can say that terrorists did not follow the model of making rented flats as their hiding place in these attacks? This shows a new security challenge that has larger strategic implications. This demands intelligence empowerment in the metros, big cities and towns as well as vigilance on the outsiders and unknown persons residing in such places are concerned. So also, one factor that is worth mentioning here is terrorism cannot exist without local support. India’s population, diverse affiliations of the citizens and stakes of some sections have always invited peril to the nation. Brokers and mediators should related to constructions should be dealt strongly. Government may consider providing license to brokers. Agencies should be registered.  

The Kolkata shootout and the criminals having Pakistani connections prove another point, terror outfits have changed its target point and recruitment policy as border security improved across the LOC and LAC. The terror network shifted its focus to other areas; utilising resentments of the youth community in different parts. Punjab has failed to maintain its economic record of accomplishment. There is extreme joblessness in present India because of Corona pandemic. Earnings have dried down unprecedentedly. Farmers’ agitation is continuing against the farm-bill. The enlarging gap between haves and have-nots is potential threat before the nations. An earner becoming jobless is concerning one. Apprehension is there regarding organised crimes executed under the directions of terror outfits. This is what Pakistan and China want. Bhullar, Jasprit and Han are small parts of the large conspiracy of Pakistan and China. Bhullar’s presence with huge cash and arms, arms-loaded truck coming from Munger, Han entering India with a plan to execute cyber hacking are not scattered incidents. All these are connected and intelligence agencies should find out the missing links. It shows that declining economy, increasing unemployment and poverty, continuous price-rise and decreasing purchasing capacity put together pose big strategic challenges before India.

The Kolkata shootout incident and its larger base should be seen whether this was an attempt to make fresh terror recruitment in the country. Finding those under whose directives such concerning things are happening is a new challenge. Terror networks try to make base utilising financial apathy of the people. Everything is purchasable today. Morality is no exception. Hunger needs food and workers job. Government must think pragmatically and try to address growing resentment among the people; particularly the youth community. Things should be analysed from larger strategic viewpoints. The changing strategic threats and dynamics need proper policy initiations for both country’s border and internal securities. Situation is alarming and policy should be out-of-box one. Strategic aspects should be top priority and this is possible through better co-ordinations among different intelligence and security agencies in India. Governments must think and act keeping aside political rift and lexicons. India’s strategic and security interests are always far more important than political hymns. People of this country; the ultimate stakeholders of India who elect governments are directing governments running administrative affairs with more efficiency. The earlier governments understand this is better for the nation.

-Shibdas Bhattacharjee is an Assam-based strategic affairs analyst. He writes his article under a specific category of “Sagacious Beholding.” The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://www.strategicaffairsindia.in

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