The political instability in Punjab has provided a very fertile ground to the nefarious designs of Pakistan. After a brief hiatus, it is back in the region to foment trouble.
Although Jammu & Kashmir has always been Pakistan’s Ground Zero, it never ceased to foment trouble in Punjab. What started in the 80s, Pakistan is pursuing it in the border state. Although Indian defence forces crushed the militancy in Punjab, Pakistan could never keep it away from its imagination.
The result was a massive drug supply in the border state of Punjab. And it was so widespread that hardly anyone remained untouched by the Punjab drug crisis.
“Even as it was pursuing the proxy war in J&K, in the early 2000s Pakistan opened another front in Punjab through a non-contact strategy; that of cultivation of a narcotics culture among Punjab’s youth. It spread like wildfire to the extent it came to be exaggeratingly reputed that even sufficiently able bodied men were unavailable for male recruitment to the army and police”, writes Lt Gen (R) Hasnain.
After the fall of the Taliban in 2001 in Afghanistan, Pakistan lost the edge it had been enjoying since 1996. Recalibrating its strategy, it focused more on Jammu & Kashmir.
In the same period, Lt Gen (R) Hasnain writes, “Pakistan also attempted to spread the turbulence back to the Jammu region (it had receded after the first decade of the millennium) bordering Punjab, a couple of incidents of infiltration, the Pathankot terror attack of 2016 and incidents around Samba and Kathua appeared to confirm Pakistan’s spreading arc of sponsored terror.”
Pakistan realised the potential of the Khalistani elements in the United States, UK and Canada. They were not just activated, and criminal elements in Punjab were also taken on board.
Meanwhile, the Union government abrogated Article 370 on August 5, 2019. The abrogation of the article, which provided special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir and reorganised it in two union territories, changed the ground reality in Jammu & Kashmir.
On the other hand, political instability in Punjab was brewing. It has come like an opportunity Pakistan was waiting for. All looked well in Punjab when suddenly Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu started asserting himself politically and Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh suddenly looked vulnerable.
Eventually, Capt. Singh had to resign. Lt Gen (R) Hasnain writes, “political disorder was brought about because of the ambitions of a petty politician against the wisdom of a former soldier, now politician”.
The situation aggravated when the vested interests got Punjab farmers to agitate at the Delhi border for more than a year. Many intelligence reports suggested that the nefarious elements have hijacked the farmers’ protests.
While announcing the rollback of the farm laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, “What I had done was for farmers and what I’m doing is for the country.”
What should India do now? Should it wait for the situation to get more complicated? Well, Lt Gen (R) says India must respond and should not wait for a more opportune time.
He writes, “So does India sit on its haunches awaiting a strike and resultant chaos. As a nation hugely experienced in handling separatism, proxy wars, hybrid conflict and more, there is a need to lower its level of tolerance, as has been done in some instances in recent years. Inaction breeds confidence in the adversary. No one is advocating war. What is necessary is resolve, to commit to response and demonstrate it.”
India has opened a negotiation channel with the Taliban and has brought relative peace to Punjab by taking proactive steps to end the farmers’ agitation.
As Lt Gen (R) Hasnain writes, “For Pakistan, retribution against India for the events of 1971 was and is an obsession. Pakistan may not have initiated trouble in Punjab in the early Eighties but what existed was fully exploited when it erupted due to various reasons triggered internally. It was a ready-made situation, in which Pakistan did not have to expend much energy.”
Pakistan will keep looking to exploit the fault-lines, and it is for India to take the proactive and pre-emptive steps.