Lucknow: The Line of Control (LoC) between Pakistan and India may be a good several hundred kilometres from here, but the escalation of hostilities between the two nations has sent the Uttar Pradesh Police into a tizzy -- over 350 "missing" Pakistanis.
This, according to official sources, is the number of Pakistanis who entered the state over the past few years on bonafide visas but have since gone missing -- or at least there is no record of them having left the state.
Hitherto treated in a cavalier manner, the police here is dusting off its files now that the threat of Pakistani retaliation in the wake of the Indian Special Forces` "surgical strikes" across the Line of Control (LoC) looms large.
Sources told IANS that there has been a terse warning "from the top" to take the matter with utmost seriousness and the local intelligence units (LIUs) have been pressed into service to find the present locations of the missing people.
An officer said that while many of the missing would be harmless, police fear that some of these men and women could be part of covert sleeper terror cells, used by non-state actors in Pakistan to trigger terror incidents in India.
When contacted by IANS, Home Secretary Mani Prasad Mishra refused to comment citing the "sensitivity" of the matter, but said the "intelligence set-up was working and all information gathered has been shared with the concerned authorities".
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Daljeet Chowdhary said there had been no laxity on the part of the police and the force has been sharing information with the intelligence agencies from time to time.
According to information given to IANS, of those who have gone missing, the maximum number of Pakistanis whose "exit points" have not been recorded in intelligence offices are from the state capital Lucknow, where 34 are untraceable.
"Every Pakistani national, on arrival in a city, has to fill up form C with the LIU and also record his or her exit from the said city. But as we have been noticing, some do not follow the procedure," an officer at the DGP headquarters said. The stipulation of police reporting is also applicable in case of foreigners from other countries where their visa is stamped with the requirement.
Among the other cities with missing Pakistanis are Kanpur (29) Bareilly (25), Meerut (22), Moradabad (17), Allahabad (15), Varanasi (14), Ghaziabad (9), Rampur (9), Ballia (10), Pratapgarh (8), Firozabad (8), Jaunpur (8) Muzaffarnagar (8) and Fatehgarh (5).
Senior Home Department officials said that intelligence officers have been sensitised on the issue, adding that there was no need for panic or alarm. "We are aware of the situation and doing all what is necessary," an official said. Not wishing to be named, officials in the department also pointed out that the central and state intelligence agencies were working in tandem on the issue.
"There has been a not-so-robust system, but now we are monitoring the situation very closely," said a district official who said he had been asked to cross-check if some people who had come to the Green Park stadium over the years to watch cricket matches also "disappeared into thin air".
However, the special focus of the police at the moment is on western Uttar Pradesh, where a special intelligence drive has been launched in places like Aligarh, Meerut, Saharanpur, Agra and Mathura.
While security aspects of the missing Pakistanis is being explored, a senior officer of the Anti-Terror Squad told IANS that in many cases either such people have died, overstayed with relatives or quietly masqueraded themselves as small-time businessmen and are more or less harmless.
Security since the "surgical strikes" across the border last week has been beefed up at most important places in the state, historical monuments, tourist hotspots, schools, market places and government installations.