Pak’s Terror Tunnel
On July 27, it had rained all night after a long dry spell and 18-year-old Sukhdev Singh, a student, had gone to have a round of his paddy field at zero line on the International Border (IB) near forward village of Chechwal in Rajpora area of Samba district.
While having the round of his field, he saw land caved in at several places. With a population of over 2,000 villagers, Chechwal hamlet is located barely one kilometre from the International Border. Alarmed, he sounded the nearest picket of the Border Security Force (BSF), which swung into action and the higher authorities were informed and immediately a digging operation at various places was started.
What was discovered was shocking—a tunnel 20 feet below the earth with 3 feet to 4 feet diameter with fresh air or oxygen pipes, originating from near Pakistan’s Nambriyal border outpost. The entire area was cordoned off and the Indian security agencies started finding the exit of the tunnel inside Indian territory but failed despite digging 500 metres long. Since it being the matter of critical nature, help from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been sought to measure the length of the tunnel, constructed by Pakistan about 280 metres deep into Indian territory. The BSF also approached seismic experts to trace the route of the tunnel including its opening and exit points.
Since the discovery of the tunnel, the Pakistani Rangers across Chechwal border village have maintained mysterious silence and have restricted their movement in the posts only. Speaking to reporters, after having a detailed inspection of the tunnel, IG BSF (Headquarters) SK Mishra, who flew in from Delhi for on the spot assessment of the situation, directly blamed Pakistan for construction of the tunnel to facilitate infiltration of militants and smuggling of narcotics into Jammu and Kashmir from across the border. “There could be a network of tunnels on the International Border. That is why the BSF has decided to approach the ISRO to find out the length of the tunnel that has been exposed and other tunnels, if any, using satellite imagery’’, Mishra said.
This is the second time that such a tunnel originating from across the border has been found by security forces. About two years ago, a tunnel was found 15 metres inside the Indian territory in Khour area of Akhnoor tehsil.
Sources have revealed that the seeds of the tunnel might have been sowed almost a decade ago, when Pakistani Rangers begun the planting of trees all along the 192-km-long International Border. The saplings, which they planted a decade ago, have now become full-grown trees blocking view from the Indian side.
BSF sources said the full-grown trees had reduced the sight from two kilometre to half a kilometre. Despite Indian side’s objections opposing the plantation, trees were, however, again planted by Pakistan over the past two years in sensitive and strategic border areas of Akhnoor, Pallanwala, Kathua, Samba and RS Pura. The BSF has pruned some of the trees whose branches extended to the Indian side. The sources said that Pakistani Rangers deliberately planted “sheesham” and “arandi” (castor) because they grow rapidly.
Top security personnel told this correspondent that it was a well-planned and professionally-managed task, which might have been undertaken by experts from Pakistan side as the tunnel was cleanly dug with enough space for the infiltrators or even the Pakistan Army or Rangers to enter into Indian side at the time of conflict.
According to sources, execution of such a large tunnel might have been going on for months together. They said the work right on the border was impossible without active connivance of Pakistan Army. SSP Samba, Israr Khan told the visiting team of mediapersons that a Pakistani post close to the International Border could have facilitated the tunnelling work as the axis of the tunnel, the Pakistani post and the caved-in area inside the Indian territory fall in a line.
The dimension of the tunnel has also created a flutter in the security establishment as Pakistani agencies were contemplating to use the under-surface channel to pump in armed militants to carry out fresh terror strikes on Indian soil.
An intelligence officer has remarked: “We all know that Pakistan has used the ongoing ceasefire agreement with India to shore up its defences along the International Border in recent years. The same is very well documented by us but this type of tunnel work has really shocked the entire security grid. It is a serious development and has left the entire security establishment in a state of shock.”
With the majority of border with Pakistan fenced and installed with electronic gadgets to check incursions, Pakistan army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) look for novel methods for pushing terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir. Recently, Indian forces detected a group of militants, which sailed through a sophisticated boat in sea waters from Karachi to Mumbai and then landed in Rajouri district of the state—while two landed in police hands, the other six are still untraced. In another incident, a militant sent from Pakistan had swam his way through icy waters of Chenab river and reached Pallanwalla in Akhnoor but was spotted and captured by security agencies and police.
Meanwhile, the detection of the tunnel into Chechwal border belt has created fear among the local people. “This is the rarest of incident. Even during the peak of militancy, no such incident was ever reported. It has sleepless nights for us,” said visibly tense villager Satnam Singh. Another villager, Harnaam Singh, said that the locals wanted the authorities to ascertain that there were no more other tunnels in their area. He remarked that villagers had seen cross-border shelling and firing, infiltration of militants from Pakistan and subsequent encounters in past but this new design appeared to be more dangerous.
The tunnels have been dug open at two-three places, which seems more threatening than otherwise continuous incursions, Harnaam said. Sources said that the Defence Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry had also been given a detailed note about digging of the tunnel, the first of its kind on the border in Jammu and Kashmir since Pakistan-sponsored militancy broke out 24 years back. They added that the issue was expected to be taken up at high level with Pakistan once a detailed report of the tunnel was prepared by the BSF including its length and exit route. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna is scheduled to travel to Pakistan in September.
By Prakriiti Gupta from Jammu