It has been a tough night for the policemen posted in Bhikhiwind, Khalra and Khemkaran areas of Tarn Taran district. They are on the lookout for drones sighted by Border Security Force (BSF) personnel on the Indo-Pak border, but their surveillance has not resulted in any concrete information or detection of payloads being carried by the drones from Pakistan. India.
The lush green fields in this part of Tarn Taran district have seen the worst of the two wars between India and Pakistan – 1965 and 1971. In 1965, it was the area on the Khemkaran-Bhikiwind road in which Pakistani Army tanks were threatened with attack. To make deep inroads into Indian territory until it was stopped in its tracks by a resolute Indian defense several kilometers down this road. Almost every frontier villager here has tales to tell about the two battles and how they or their elders fared in it.
These border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran also saw the worst during the years of insurgency in Punjab between 1984 and 1995, which claimed thousands of lives and plunged the state and the country into turmoil.
But now a new invisible enemy is at hand, often simply not heard and seen. BSF jawans opened fire on drones launched from inside Pakistan, but they have no idea whether they ever attacked them or not. At times they can only see some light flashing and retreating when they fire at them with their short arms.
The topography of the area does not pose any particular challenge to anyone who is interested in sending drones across the border from Pakistan. The land is level for miles on end and a line-of-sight signal will be available to the person operating the drone. And in many places villages and houses are so close to the border fence that it will not be difficult to land the drone accurately in a courtyard.
Opinderjit Singh Ghuman, SSP, Tarn Taran, says, “They operate drones with GPS coordinates that are pre-programmed to allow the drone to land at a place or at least reach that place.” He is also patrolling at night, which did not yield any result.
“My police personnel didn’t even see a scooter running on the road at the ‘naka’, so there was no one who could turn around to pick up any packets of drugs or weapons,” he says. they say.
Ghuman is not sure whether these drones actually go back or they remain at the place of delivery.
“The range at which they can operate decreases with the amount of weight they carry. So the area of operation of these drones is limited. It may well be that some of them are already at the farthest end. Descends with the given coordinates,” he says.
Dressed in jeans and a shirt, the sarpanch of Pahuwind village, Inderbir Singh, is much younger than the white-bearded sarpanchs of the area. he has a house and business in amritsar And also maintains the farm in his village. But he suspects the drone threat is as serious as is being portrayed.
“We have only heard about drones being flown from Pakistan to India. We have never seen any. There is no one even in our villages. But we read reports that something has happened and some weapons and drugs have been recovered. you tell us is it true? Can this happen again and again,” asks Inderbir.
A Punjab cabinet minister, on the condition of anonymity, said the proliferation of arms and ammunition in the border areas is at an all-time high.
“Every packet of heroin that arrives on the drone also brings with it a 9mm pistol. There are so many illegal weapons in the border areas that one has to be very careful in fighting even with a passing motorcyclist. Who knows he might take out a Chinese pistol at you,” says the minister.
However, the SSP says that this is not a new incident. “Even with traditional methods of smuggling across the border, heroin packets always come with small arms like pistols and some ammunition. The game plan is very clear. Medicines may be supplied to the rest of the country or even the world, but pistols and other weapons are more likely to remain in the state to increase crime,” he says.
The argument of SSP is supported by facts. Almost all the drugs seized by the BSF and Punjab Police on orders are weapons like pistols, AK-47 rifles and grenades.
And, of course, Pakistani SIM cards for mobiles are also ubiquitous. This reporter searched and found that no less than three Pakistani telecom providers have signals readily available across the border. However, in the age of mobile data, the importance of SIM cards has diminished as the risk of interception is high.
“WhatsApp calls are the preferred mode of communication between Indian smugglers and Pakistani smugglers as they are encrypted and data connectivity is quite good even in the border areas,” says an intelligence official.
The Sarpanch of Dhulnau, a village adjacent to the Indo-Pak border, has helped in fighting the sudden floods in the village due to heavy rains. Drones are their least concern at the moment.
“No drone new and athe. Saareyan nu pata hai kaun ki karda (No drone comes here. Everyone knows what people are doing),” says sarpanch Rashpal Singh. What he is pointing out is that the nefarious acts of some people are known to all in the villages and are not hidden. It is a common thread that runs with villagers in the border areas insisting that the police and intelligence officers, apart from the BSF, are well aware of the ‘bad elements’ and that drones are just a “theory”.
SHO of Khemkaran police station Kuldeep Rai, who has been a part of the night supremacy patrol, has also had a sleepless night. A veteran of the fight against terrorism in Punjab, Rai’s hands are also full of regular policing, as any SHO of Majha region, which is famous for people fighting on the slightest pretext, will testify. Currently, he is busy solving the problems of a man whose wife, in her early 50s, had eloped with a 25-year-old young man and was refusing to return home.
Freed from his desk job, the SHO accompanies this reporter to fencing the border where Kasoor Nala enters Pakistan and actually leads to the Pakistani city of Kasoor after which it is named. The rain in the last few days has flooded the drain and the Pakistan Rangers post is just a few blocks away. Kuldeep Rai standing on the newly constructed bridge on the drain is attentive to the drone.
“We have not seen much activity in the area of our police station. It is more towards Khalra. I am not sure about the reason. But here it is peaceful, ”he says. There is no explanation as to why some areas along the border are more preferred for drone activities, while others, right next door, remain untouched.
“All this could be a hoax for all of us. Who has seen the drone coming? We have just been told that one night or the other night its sound was heard and the BSF opened fire on it. People involved in smuggling For, saare nu pata kaun ne (everyone knows who they are). These people were involved in gold smuggling before the barricades came in. Now it is ‘something else’,” says Mastgarh village, located very close to the border. Sarpanch Gurmukh Singh says.
Brothers Karambir Singh and Rajbir Singh in Rajok village, who have seen a lot of drone activity, have some search questions to ask. Elder brother Karambir is also the Sarpanch of the village.
“The youth who do nothing go around in cars and wear shoes worth Rs 20,000. From where do they get money for this? I don’t know about this drone business but there is a lot going on without drones as well. Why don’t the police ask these people from where they can buy these expensive things,” asks player Rajbir.
When asked about the recovery of arms and ammunition in the area dumped by the drone, the brothers scoffed at it. “Do you think someone will bury expensive weapons worth lakhs in the mud so that the police can find them?” asks Parambir.
The SHO, Khalra Police Station, Jaswant Singh, under whom Rajok village falls, and which also has a police post, is well acquainted with the area, having had his tenure in the past. No one is going to take chances after the BSF sighting the drone near the village, they have deployed a quick response team 24X7 in an armored truck on the road leading from the border to the rest of the village.
“Senior officials say drone sirf aunda, janda nahi wapsi (Senior officials say the drone only comes, it doesn’t go back). We haven’t seen or heard anything. Only BSF men say they have and they open fire on them.” After a recent sighting, Jaswant Singh has also played a part in the operation of night supremacy, but nothing was found.
“This is my second term here. I never heard of drones coming during my first stint, but now in my second sting I have heard about them coming twice in less time,” he says.
Recent Drone Activity
According to the police, 60 drones have been sighted in the border villages of Punjab in a span of 20 months.
- October 2021: Bohar Wadala, Chauntra and Kashyam Burman in Gurdaspur district
- September 2021: Rajok, Tarn Taran
- August 2021: Dalke, Tarn Tarni
- August 2021: Hoshiarnagar, Amritsar District
- July 2021: Pallopatti, Khalra, Tarntarani
- June 2021: Aabad, Dera Baba Nanak, Gurdaspuri
- March 2021: Bamiyal, Pathankoti
Recovery from Drone Drops
- December 2020: Police have recovered 11 grenades from Salach village of Gurdaspur district
- July 2021: A large quantity of 48 foreign-made pistols were recovered from a car in Kathunangal village of Gurdassaur district. They were allegedly dropped by drones at three places in Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran district along with 80 kg of heroin.
- August 2021: Former DGP Dinkar Gupta revealed that tiffin bomb IEDs, five grenades and over 100 live cartridges were recovered from a border village in Amritsar.
- The 461 km long border fence runs along the Indo-Pak border in Punjab. This came to the fore during the years of insurgency in Punjab between 1988 and 1993, when Pakistan was found doing arms training and supplying arms and ammunition to Sikh separatist groups operating in Punjab.
- The fence consists of three layered barbed wire, associated razor wire and high voltage cobra wire running through it. The fence gets submerged during the night and patrolled by BSF personnel day and night.
- Before the drone, smugglers have created a variety of contraptions to defeat the fence. These include plastic pipes and ladder/swing systems, which allow restricted materials to be placed over fences without touching them.
Impact on Kartarpur Corridor
The border town of Dera Baba Nanak is about 75 km from Rajatal village. This is the place where the Kartarpur Corridor was constructed in November 2019, which was inaugurated with much fanfare. However, it was only operational for four months before being shut down in March 2020 as the COVID pandemic spread across the world.
However, requests to reopen the corridor have not been met with much enthusiasm among security agencies due to the problem of drones at the borders. Despite repeated requests by the Punjab government to reopen the corridor, it remained closed. In August 2021, an IAF Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) crashed near Kalanaur, off Dera Baba Nanak, causing panic in the area. The UAV was monitoring activities in the Pakistani side of the border amid drone activities being observed in the area.
Inside Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Dera Baba Nanak, not far from the border, devotees still expect the corridor to be opened ahead of Guru Nanak Dev’s birth anniversary celebrations in November.
Baldev Raj, retired sub-inspector of BSF, says that there has been some talk of opening the corridor. Punjab’s new Deputy Chief Minister-cum-Home Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa represents the Dera Baba Nanak constituency and has been a big supporter of the opening of the corridor.
“Sarkar diya gallan sarkar jaane. Os paas wale ta kehne ne kholo (Only governments know what they are thinking. People on the other side (Pakistan) are also saying open it),” says Ratan Lal.