Art of tunneling

Ever since the escape of more than 500 Taliban fighters  from a high security prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in April 2011 through a sophisticated tunnel built from the outside I had predicted that the technology would be used by Pakistan to cut tunnels into India under the barbedwire fence that had been erected from Gujarat in the south to Jammu and Kashmir in the north.

The logic for this prediction was that Pakistan enjoyed very close military relations with North Korea and China and through whom it had received nuclear-capable missile delivery systems and miniaturized nuclear warheads, respectively. It was to be expected that since the three countries were in such a tight military relationship it was logical that North Korea would have shared with the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence the technique of how to dig very deep tunnels opening into India at points along the International Border in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab as well as the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence which controls the many Islamic fundamentalist groups used for fighting against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan has been the conduit for the flow of military wherewithal to the Taliban and Al Qaeda from varied sources ranging from the US-led coalition and China and its ally North Korea.

Sharing techniques

The technique to dig deep tunnels accurately from the outside to a point  inside a prison could only have come from North Korea which demonstrated its capability by digging four tunnels under the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) along the 36 degree latitude dividing post war Korean peninsula into the North and the South through a town named Panmunjom.  North Korea had dug three huge tunnels under the DMZ opening inside South Korea in preparation for a surprise massive invasion against the US ally. There were three when the first was discovered. A fourth was found many years later.

What caused incredulous surprise was the sheer size of the tunnels, the depth at which they were laid and the fact that light tanks and field artillery of a 30,000 infantry brigade would be able to cross through it into South Korea within one hour. The magnitude can be gauged from the fact that all the four tunnels have been dug at more than 100 meters underground through solid bedrock. The height is more than six feet and width nearly seven feet. The first of the tunnels was discovered after South Korean soldiers heard the sound of muffled explosions at night and on one occasion when the North Korean excavators accidently pierced the ground crust and the tunnel opened up. It led to a shootout that cost several lives.

Because the North Korean tunnels indicated a canny technique of constructing from the outside into pre-designated enclosed spaces it lent credence to the prognosis that the knowhow used to free more than 500 Taliban fighters from the Kandahar jail in 2011 came from North Korea through the good offices of the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence.

The Kandahar tunnel had been constructed from a house across the main thoroughfare from the jail. It traversed under the road, under the walls of the jail  and into a special cell reserved for hardcore Taliban commanders. It took five months to construct and there was no evidence of any construction activity like debris from the excavations because it was being constructed back-to-front where the debris was extracted from the beginning of the tunnel  and dispersed without alerting the jail authorities. It was said that the house where the digging started was once searched by security but nothing was found. The general impression was that it was an insider job.

Network of tunnels

With this grand success under the belt of the Pakistan Army Inter-Services Intelligence it would be natural for the ISI to look to use the technology against India where its attempts to make the Kashmir Valley to break away from India have so far failed miserably.  It needed to be able to find better means to circumvent the Indian barbedwire fence and digging under it was the best option available.
India has so far discovered eight tunnels from the Pakistani side of the International Border and the Line of Control, some as deep into Indian territory as half a kilometre. Many of them have been discovered only by accident and it is not known how many terrorists have used these routes to gain entry into India. To date it is unclear how the terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase managed to cross over to get to the target. How many too is still a mystery.

Some of them pre-date the Kandahar jailbreak and were being used by the Pakistani security forces to push in drugs and other contraband into India to help finance terrorist activities and providing logistics support to Islamist fundamentalist terrorists. After Kandahar the tunnels into India became longer and more sophisticated in their ventilation and space management.

The one discovered in the Ranbirsinghpora area of Jammu in early March was three ft wide and four feet high and was a work in progress because it had not crossed the barbed wire fence. Yet it had traversed 30 meters (900 ft).

The Pakistan Army is trying to take full advantage of the massive chunk of territory that abuts India in the Shakargarh bulge between Samba in Jammu and Kashmir and Gurdaspur in Punjab. It has been pushing in terrorists into this sector because of the strategic nature of the terrain. The rail and road link to Jammu and Kashmir passes through this sector and there are several military installations in close proximity, including the Northern Command HQ at Udhampur.

During the Indo-Pak war of 1971 the Indian Army cut off this bulge by launching a three pronged attack from ChakAmru in the north and Dera Baba Nanak in the south with a spearhead through Zafarwal to threaten the Pakistani heartland around Gujranwala and the canal networks around it.

By concentrating on this sector, Pakistan wants to exploit the possibility of year-round insurgency operations without the halt imposed by snowbound mountains during the fall season in other parts of Kashmir. It is setting up a network that will keep the Indian security forces off balance and unsure of where the next attack will materialize.

India needs to set up a collaborative network of the Indian security forces, the Geological Survey of India and the National Centre for Seismology to find ways and means of detecting tunnel activity. Dealing with the intruders must be evolved in a manner that we do not employ overkill as in Pathankot where we destroyed all evidence and prevented the nation from knowing for sure whether there were only four intruders in the Pathankot episode or six. There was also no need to rush to tell the Pakistanis that we had discovered their tunnel. We could have waited and caught them red handed.