18 May 2024 09:11 AM



Pulwama Re-Constructed: The Planning, the Execution and Two Primary Reasons for Intelligence Failure

Sources have dried up

NEW DELHI: A terror attack of the Pulwama kind where the Jaish e Mohammad man was carrying 200 kilograms of RDX, in a vehicle, targeting a convoy requires planning with several dry runs of a minimum of three weeks; personnel and controllers from anywhere between 20-25 (if not more) where success is almost guaranteed. After speaking to senior persons who have handled intelligence for years at a time in Jammu and Kashmir The Citizen team has pieced together a modus operandi that confirms one, a level of planning that defies lay -person imagination; and two, a complete failure of intelligence for reasons that will be recounted in the article below.

As a senior former intelligence officer said, “Jaish e Mohammad (that along with Lashkar e Taiba is a funded, supported proxy of Pakistan’s Army and Intelligence services) is no longer a cottage industry but a corporate industry of terrorism. But for the reasons we have to look inwards not just outside.”

Jaish e Mohammad operatives who clearly are safer in Kashmir today than ever before, as the highly alienated population today is more hospitable that it was for a long period since the last insurgency, embraced the young suicide bomber Adil Ahmed Dar over a year before this attack. Contact was established with the youth who had suffered conflict personally. He dropped out of his board examinations last March and disappeared, to resurface as a suicide bomber whose video was shared on the social media after the massacre to establish him as a “martyr.” During this period Dar clearly underwent long training by the Jaish in Pakistan, and probably returned at least two months ago to Kashmir to plan---along with others---the attack with reconnaissance and dry runs being an essential part of the operation.

Despite claims of the government of being well on top of the situation, this group could get together 200 kilograms of RDX (as against the 3-5 kg used in lethal attacks normally). Get the delivery, get it assembled after procuring a vehicle. This is a touch task given the levels of security in Jammu and Kashmir and the possibility that most of the RDX was procured locally, under secrecy that the intelligence network was unable to penetrate.

Jaish is known to plan attacks with meticulous reconnaissance, and several dry runs as per interrogation reports of operatives arrested in Jammu and Kashmir. It is likely that Dar would have had a controller to ensure that he carried out the bomb attack and did not chicken out. The possibility of the controller sitting fairly close to the site with a remote control to be used in case Dar backed out, is also very real.

Dar himself would have been part of dry runs where ultimately he might not have known that it was a dry run and told it was the real thing. In that (not of course on the convoy) where he would have pressed the trigger (without knowing it was fake), and thereby assured his handlers that he would carry out a suicide attack without last minute second thoughts.

In terms of a time frame, the final operation of putting it all together would have taken about three weeks minimum. And an additional month on the ground before that. And at least 20-25 persons involved in the process, that would have included tracking the convoy on a minute to minute basis.

JeM lost little time in claiming responsibility for the terror attack. And in putting out Dar’s video, released after his death.

So the question that then arises is: how did all this happen without the intelligence agencies getting a whiff of it.

Every conceivable intelligence outfit is present in Kashmir, including revenue, military, and the internal and external intelligence outfits. The joke in the agencies, shared of course by the Kashmiris is that for every one Kashmiri there are two shadows. So how did an attack with the planning of this magnitude escape the intelligence, much of it masterminded by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

Although there are many reasons for this colossal intelligence failure for which heads would have rolled in any other country or establishment, two are primary.

One, the multitude of intelligence outfits without a central command is being pinpointed as a major reason why JeM was able to work below the radar blurred by factionalism and competitiveness. Without a unified intelligence command, all agencies are working at loggerheads with the turf war intense. A proposal for a national intelligence grid remains only on paper, with the Intelligence Bureau said to have been reluctant to join.

There is a review of the Indian intelligence system after every major terror attack. Be it the Parliament attack, or Mumbai or more recently Pathankot.Uri, Pampore, Baramulla, Nagrota or for that matter Sukma in Chhattisgarh. Intelligence failure has been cited in every such attack, with turf war coming in the way of an integrated system. Instead ambitious and knee jerk responses have further fractured the intelligence network.

After Kargil the government authorised IB to set up a multi-agency centre (MAC). And since then it has been non-ending. The military set up the Defence Intelligence Agency in 2002 that remains non-functional without a Chief of Defence Staff. The National Technical Research Organisation was set up a couple of years later but never got off the ground for similar reasons of turf. After Mumbai, the National Security Guards set up commando hubs and the central government established the National Investigation Agency.

Coordination and cooperation between all these and the other intelligence agencies remain under a question mark.The NSA remains the super authority but without a vision, and with competing information, has clearly been unable to secure even the basics of intelligence gathering in the sensitive border state.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satyapal Malik admitted “security lapses” after the terror attack on the CRPF convoy at Pulwama but insisted there had been sufficient intelligence information. Sources pooh poohed this claim maintaining that this information is worthless in the absence of correlation and coordination between the agencies.

The second reason is important and of far reaching impact. Intelligence sources have dried up over the past four years with the ‘no talks only force’ policy of the Modi government resulting in deep alienation. It is a well known fact that Kashmiri Muslims formed the bulk of informants for the intelligence agencies in the Valley. For money no doubt but locals nevertheless. These locals have been completely silenced.

One by deep alienation, and two by fear and targeted killings of informers by the terror groups. The informers have been singled out and killed, resulting in deep fear with the ordinary Kashmiri finding it safer to be with the terrorists now than with the agencies. Adding to this of course is deep alienation that has grown to include every home because of the policies of the Modi government that has led to intimidation, threats, arrests, violence, encounters on an almost ceaseless basis. The refusal to talk has killed hope, and as the sources said, intelligence gathering for agencies is based on the ability to give locals “hope.” Hope that they will see better days, that they will be protected, that the scales will turn in their favour. As a former intelligence senior officer said, “we would tell them that the information would help get rid of the militants gun and give them a better life, but what happens when we add our gun to theirs and kill that hope.”

Intelligence sources pointed out that part of intelligence is to look after “assets” long term. Apart from the money the informers have to feel a sense of comfort and security that current policy has totally destroyed. As the sources said, “if we give money to the brother and kill the husband how will that asset remain.” The result is that the informer has come under pressure at home as well to stop giving out any information with the result that the local sources in the districts and villages have dried up. Pulwama itself has been a major target of brutal security operations with the villages lost to the government agencies now.

Those who have served in Kashmir in the past point out that the people had always been the best asset. And wondered how the government now hoped to contain Kashmir without help from the inside. “You can judge the alienation when women carry stones and weapons under their garments to resist the forces,” the sources said.

Interestingly India has faced attacks of this magnitude last in Sri Lanka where RDX was used in the 100 plus kilo magnitude against the Indian Peace Keeping Force by the LTTE. But that was a foreign land, the sources added, and here this is our own territory where we have lost the population because of strong arm political policy that is counterproductive for Indian democracy.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR)