NEW DELHI: A major combing operation is expected to be launched by the security forces in the border districts of Punjab in the next few days, At least 40 additional companies of paramilitary forces are being pressed into action for this purpose, Many of these companies have already reached Punjab while the remaining are in transit.
Significantly, commandos of the National Security Guard (NSG) are also expected to take part in this move aimed at flushing out militants from their hideouts in Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts. Officials say that the campaign will be similar to Operation Woodrose which was conducted in the immediate aftermath of Operation Blue star in 1984.
The Punjab administration apparently believes that the militant’s morale is extremely low following Operation Black Thunder, the death of Labh Singh and Avtar Singh Brahma and now the death of president ZiaulHaq. Further, there are reports that some militants have returned to India in recent (days and are at present hiding in the Tarn Taran and Patti subdi. visions. Their network has been affected by increased police vigilance in recent days and they are apparently not in a position to move about as freely as in the past. These reasons are being cited to justify the proposed operation.
However. There is no unanimity among officials over Operation Woodrose 2. Some feel that another operation of this kind will further alienate the rural population in the border villages besides leading to a fresh exodus of youth to Pakistan, It is pointed out that Operation Woodrose did much more to alienate Sikhs in Punjab from the government than Operation Blue star itself.
PERMANENT PICKETS Some officials are of the view that the 40 additional companies of paramilitary forces can be better utilized to provide permanent pickets of 10 constables and one officer each in at least 500 potentially disturbed villages. It is pointed out that in many villages of the Tarn Taran and Patti region, the writ of the security forces does not run after sundown. Militants continue to receive sanctuary and the local population is in certain cases, sympathetic to the militants, As a result the militants are continuing to use these villages as hide outs.
Instead of alienating the local population through house to house searches, those opposed to Woodrose 2 feel that permanent pickets would go a long way in strengthening the morale of the villagers. The proposal to use the NSG in the search operations has also caused alarm because it is felt that the commandos are not familiar with the terrain. Besides, reports that such an operation may be under taken are already doing the rounds of Amritsar district and it is unlikely that the militants will simply wait idly for the security forces to come and arrest them.
The proposal for conducting Operation Woodrose 2 would appear to be in consonance with the government’s assessment that not only the militants but even the established Punjab politicians and institutions are deeply divided. Following Gen. Labh Singh’s death, the KCF has split up into two factions. While one faction, led by Sukhdey Singh Jhamka is being backed by the Pakistan based Panthic Committee leader, Wassan Singh Zaffarwal, other members ofthe committee, such as Kanwarjit Singh, Dalbir Singh and Daljinder Singh, are reportedly backing Jasbir Singh Rode. Meanwhile the Panthic Committee chief, Gurbachan Singh Manochahal is said to be in India.
Divisions in the Panthic Committee are believed to have affected the cohesion even of the Damadmi Taksal, besides causing disarray in the AISSF which is, in any case, divided into two major groups. Although the whereabouts of Gurjit Singh are not known, another AISSF leader, Charanjit Singh Channi, is said to be masterminding the organization’s activities, Channi is a nephew of the newly appointed UAD president, Mr. Jagdev Singh Talwandi, although they do not see eye to eye on political issues,
In fact Mr. Talwandi’s appointment as UAD chief has already brought tensions latent in the party to the surface. Judging by the statements of some of his supporters, it is apparent that the Badal group is not overjoyed by this development. Mr. Prakash Singh Badal and Mr. Talwandi have been lifelong rivals in Akali politics. Those owing allegiance to Mr. Badal evidently feel that Mr. G.S. Tohra has consolidated his position in Akali SGPC politics by getting Mr. Talwandi nominated as party chief and Mr. Darshan Singh Ragi reappointed as the Akal Takht jathedar,
In view of these developments realignments may take place in Akali politics very soon. Of particular significance is Mr. Simranjit Singh Mann’s apparent decision to throw in his lot with the Baba Joginder Singh Jasbir Singh Rode faction. This has removed the ambivalence about Mr. Mann and has, at the same time boosted the Baba’s fortunes.
Clearly the government is planning to take advantage of the prevailing confusion to strike out at the remaining militant groups. But no assessment appears to have been made of the possible fall out of Operation Woodrose 2. While the anxiety to make the border districts a “militant free zone” by September 21 (when the Prime Minister is slated to visit Punjab) is understandable the chance that such an operation may backfire does not seem to have been taken into account.
Article extracted from this publication >> September 16, 1988