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    Tunnel from Pakistan
    Tunnel from Pakistan
    Investigation: BSF's vigil leads to the discovery of a nearly-complete tunnel across the Punjab border with Pakistan
    Vijaya Pushkarna/Indo-Pak border

    "It was just my luck," says Rudra Singh, a Border Security Force assistant commandant at the Kamalpur Border Outpost. He shudders to think what would have happened had he not been that fortunate.

    Tell-tale evidence: A.S. Aulak, IG of BSF,
    and Maj. Gen. Salimullah, director-general of Pak Rangers, inspecting the tunnel

    Surender Kumar, BSF commandant at Dera Baba Nanak sector of the Indo-Pak border in Punjab's Gurdaspur district, is another who thanks his stars. It would have been not only embarrassing but also a serious breach of duty. Echoing the feeling of his fellow officers is Avtar Singh Aulakh, the Inspector-General of BSF, Punjab. "We're lucky to have found it in time," he says.

    Of course, they are all referring to the discovery of a 200-metre tunnel on November 18, that begins about 30 metres inside the Pakistani side of the international border. On the Indian side, the tunnel stopped just 20 metres short of the barbed-wire and concertina fence. "To make it operational, they had to dig for just another 15 days. The opening would have been in the dense forest behind. The damage could have been anything," says Kumar.

    It all began with a tip-off from village Nach in the Narond tehsil of Sialkot district in Pakistan, said to be the base of a Pakistani smuggler, Jaika Isaih. There was a clash between those who wanted to smuggle out heroin and those who wanted to send a cargo of RDX and other explosives. Though there was no mention of a tunnel, the BSF stepped up its combing operations on the Indian territory beyond the fence.

    The over 500-kilometre-long fence is between 50 feet to 1 kilometre away from the international border. In small stretches of riverine land, there is no fence. While parts of the Indian land between the fence and the border are neat because farmers cultivate there, parts are forest land, covered by a dense growth of high, sharp-edged elephant grass. Called sarkanda, its cane-like stem is used to make furniture elsewhere in the country. But here, it has been providing hiding spots for smugglers and terrorists alike. For the last three years, IG Avtar Singh Aulakh had been clearing, combing and patrolling the area across the fence. Once the monsoon was behind them, the BSF men were asked to clear about 100 yards instead of the usual 50 yards.

    It was in the course of such work on November 17 that head constable J.C. Burman's foot slipped into a deep cavity. Rudra Singh who was leading the operations put the sarkanda into the hole; it went in at least five feet. The next morning they combed every square inch of the area.

    The 200-metre tunnel would have required eight men
    to work daily for a month and a half.

    In the afternoon constables Vijay Kumar and N. Venkaiah spotted another cavity. Rudra Singh's sarkanda again went deep down. When they widened it, they saw a tunnel on both sides. The opening was clearly an air-vent, one of seven as they were to discover later. While they were wondering what could be inside, and whose handiwork it could be, 23-year-old constable Manjunath braved the unknown tunnel. "I went in about 10-15 feet and saw nothing. I came back and told my 'saab'. Then I went back with a small stick, and monkey-crawled along, tapping the roof with the stick all the time. It was very dark, I could see nothing," says Manjunath. The tapping helped the team map the route of the tunnel, and it was only when he had got to the fourth air-vent that he was given a flash light. Manjunath's crawl was not straight, but it was not suffocating either, thanks to the air-vents. When he finally stopped tapping, they were about 30 metres inside Pakistan's wild, unkempt border area! Manjunath did a u-turn and when he came out of it, he had some men's clothes, an empty Pak-made ghee tin smelling of kerosene, some make-shift kerosene lamps, empty Pak cigarette cartons, 125 yards of nylon rope, empty gunny bags, Pak-made torch cells and some digging equipment.

    "The tunnel has been made scientifically. It is not as if just anyone has gone and dug it. There were at least eight people involved, two to dig, two to load the earth in gunny bags, two to lift them, another two to spread, and at least two guarding this operation. And to dig that much, they would have had to work daily for one and a half months at least. Such an effort is not possible without the connivance of the Pakistani outposts," says S.K. Dutta, deputy inspector-general, BSF, Punjab.

    The discovery of the tunnel reinforced the feeling that the "anti-national elements", as the BSF men refer to the infiltrators, were desperate to find a way of getting across the fence which had made crossing difficult. Two tunnels had been discovered in the Amritsar sector last year and the year before last, but this one was the first in the Gurdaspur sector, the longest, and also closest to the fence.

    The discovery coincided with the first day of the four-day biannual border-related meeting at Lahore. Aulakh, who learnt about the tunnel there, maintained a discreet silence in the beginning. When they were discussing the minutes of the meeting, he told his Pakistani counterpart, Major General Salimullah, director-general of the Pakistani Rangers, Punjab, about the discovery, and invited him to visit the border and see it for himself. With Salimullah agreeing then and there, the first ever flag meeting between the IG, BSF, Punjab, and DG, Pak Rangers, Punjab, was held bang on the border, on November 23, when Salimullah sailed across the Ravi into India. Protocol, exchange of gifts (including holy water from Nankana Sahib), and glasses of Verka (a Punjab brand as popular as Amul) lassi later, the subject of the tunnel was broached. Salimullah wanted to see it. "He did not appear to have any idea of the tunnel. Lt Col Rafiq who came along with him wanted to see the entire tunnel, and crawled through it. Our sub-inspector Dinesh Singh also crawled the whole distance, to show him what it was," says Aulakh. Salimullah's response, though in a lighter vein according to Aulakh, was: "It's a very good job done by people from your side. You say the tunnel has been dug by people from our side, and I say it's been dug by you. It's a matter of interpretation". Equally lightly, DIG Dutta told him that to go to Pakistan, he would only have to unlock the gates to which they had the keys...not build tunnels through it. The BSF wanted the Pak Rangers to identify the culprits who had dug the tunnel and take action.

    Pakistan, according to the BSF, never bothered to keep their side of the international border clean. But in the week since the flag meeting some of the sarkandas on the Pakistani side were being cleared, according to Surendra Kumar.

    He is confident that there is no other tunnel in the Dera Baba Nanak area. Tunnels through the fence would be no less provocative than intrusions in the Kargil area, says the BSF, emphasising that it was an organised, well-planned effort, not possible without patronage. According to them, such tunnels, apart from being used for smuggling narcotics or explosives, could be used as traps. Manjunath's name has been recommended for an award. For he had crawled into the tunnel which could have been dangerous both for him and his country.

    There is always a tunnel at the end of light.


      You mean light (India) at the end of the tunnel.


        there is also something shoved in the tunnel (for india).

        but being indians u r used to getting it from Pakistanies i guess.

        [This message has been edited by mundyaa (edited December 13, 1999).]


          sometimes, the tunnel could end up at a wrong point.... a gutter!!!