'Conditions prevail for revival of Khalistan militancy in the state'

This piece originally appeared in Times of India

Khalistani terrorism in Punjab was defeated in 1993, and the state has experienced more than two decades of peace since. It's a measure of the utter rout of the Khalistanis that, when the attack occurred at Dinanagar in Gurdaspur on July 27, the immediate conclusion, subsequently borne out by preliminary findings, was that these could not be the Khalistanis but were likely Islamist terrorists linked to the insurgency in J&K. Several police and politicians in Punjab insisted that Khalistani terrorism can never stage a revival in Punjab. But, the adage goes, "never say never".

Movements of violence are products of convergence of entirely unpredictable circumstances. As events in some of the most stable and prosperous societies of the world have demonstrated, there's no absolute guarantee against the possibility of terrorism. Vulnerabilities are much greater in weak states, lacking the instrumentali ties of modern security management and efficient civil administration, with large pools of public grievance, and complex histories of violent conflict.

The Punjab Police has the experience and the intelligence penetration to scuttle any foreseeable attempts to revive terrorism. Nevertheless, such attempts are being made at regular intervals on the gamble that, at some stage, against a backdrop of political volatility, a dramatic terrorist strike could abruptly catalyze a sympathetic chain of events that would carry the state over the brink again.

It's useful to remind ourselves that, between 1995 and 2015, the era of peace in Punjab at least 120 people have been killed in terrorist linked violence. A range of other disturbing indices -arrests, weapons and explo sives seizures, extremist demonstrations and protests on polarizing communal issues (the latest was the transfer of Khalistani terrorists from other jails to Punjab) -are reminders of skulking residual threats.

Punjab is today afflicted by enveloping corruption and mis-governance. After 13 years of terrorism, Punjab was still second among states on the measure of per capita income. By 2014, after decades of 'peace', it had sunk to the 14th rank.

In another war by other means, Pakistan has flooded the state with drugs. Almost 75% of Punjab's youth and 65% of all families are afflicted by drug addiction according to the government. Tragically, Punjab's political elite have been deeply complicit in this devastating trade.

Not only does Pakistan continue to hold surviving elements of the Khalistani movement as a reserve on its own soil, it supports numerous extremist Sikh diaspora elements and Khalistani organisations to sustain propaganda, recruitment and training across the world.

Punjab, today, is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy , barely able to cover the salaries of its police force, investing little in the augmentation or even maintenance of capacities. At Dinanagar, there was, significant, if anecdotal, visual evidence of the decay, the lack of equipment and training, and the progressive erosion of response capabilities in the force notwithstanding the courage and eventual effectiveness of its leadership and personnel. The police remain a bulwark against the resurgence of terrorism in the state; but this is a bulwark that is being weakened from day to day by a compromised political leadership.

Ajai Sahni is Executive Director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. Follow him on Twitter @SATPICM