July 18, 2021 6:35:48 am
Unearthing the conspiracy behind the terror attack in Pulwama on February 14, 2019, that left 40 CRPF personnel dead, was a huge challenge for the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which took up its investigation under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). It was equally challenging for Rahul Pandita, author of The Lover Boy of Bahawalpur (Juggernaut; 2021), to connect a series of terror attacks in Kashmir and beyond and unravel the sinister network of terrorists in our country. The author has done fair justice to the security forces by highlighting their contributions and sacrifices which are seldom celebrated.
As the investigation of the case proceeds, the extensive search around the crime scene, which could be undertaken only on the seventh day of the incident, shows how difficult it is to investigate a terror attack in such a hostile environment without compromising on its quality. It was during this search that the NIA’s SP Rakesh Balwal could locate the half-buried keys and a piece of bone, which led to the identification of the car used in the attack and its driver, Adil Ahmed Dar. The DNA profiling matched his father, who had already been identified after the release of a video by the terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).
The car had changed hands six times without change of ownership on record, but the police could trace the last buyer, Sajjad Bhat, easily. “A Jaish spokesperson who contacted a local news organisation in Kashmir claiming responsibility for the attack was traced by investigators to Rawalpindi in Pakistan”, but the involvement of the cross-border terrorists could be established only after an important arrest (Bashir) on February 28, 2020. The terrorists had used WhatsApp through VPN to mask IP addresses and maintain anonymity, but it was one of the damaged mobile phones recovered from two slain Pakistani terrorists (including Idrees Bhai) on March 29, 2019, that ultimately connected the dots to link Idrees to the Pulwama attack.
After the Pulwama attack, the burly man from Pakistan’s Bahawalpur, the shadowy figure directing the attack, asked his nephew Umar to delete his chat history and destroy his mobile phone, which he did not. He tried to destroy the phone when he was shot but only managed to damage it partially. Thus, the data could be extracted successfully and consequently, the NIA could lay hands on everyone involved directly or indirectly in the attack. During interrogation, Bashir disclosed that Idrees Bhai was none other than JeM founder Masood Azhar’s nephew, and the son of one of the hijackers of the IC-814 plane, Umar Farooq, the Jaish commander, who had planned Pulwama.
The author has also traced the history of terrorism in Kashmir since 1988 when “a handful of Kashmiri men returned” after receiving training in arms in PoK. Pakistan’s earlier attempts in October 1947 and 1965 had been frustrated by the Indian Army. After the release of Masood Azhar in December 1999 in exchange for the passengers of the IC-814 flight, he announced the formation of the JeM and set up its first training camp at Balakot. Soon JeM replaced the terror outfit, Hizbul-Mujahideen. Ghazi Baba, who became its first chief in Kashmir, later planned the attack on India’s Parliament in 2001. Pandita has devoted one chapter to a BSF officer, Narendra Nath Dhar Dubey, and highlighted his role in fighting insurgency, particularly during his second tenure in Kashmir, when he was successful in eliminating Ghazi Baba on August 30, 2003. By October 2006, most of the Jaish terrorists were either killed or co-opted by the Indian agencies, he writes.
The author has also elaborated on the role of a dwarfish man called Noor Mohammed Tantray from Tral, who in the guise of a spiritual figure, created “a network of foot soldiers used by the Jaish to carry out the Pulwama attack”. After he was killed in a raid on December 25, 2017, Al-Qalam, the Jaish’s magazine, referring to the Parliament attack, claimed, “all things required for the operation was provided by Noor only.”
This book is an intense account of the JeM’s sinister activities. Pandita, who focussed mainly on the proscribed rebels in his Hello, Bastar — the Untold Story of India’s Maoist Movement (Tranquebar, 2011), interacted with senior officials this time, to bring out facts which are generally hidden from the public gaze.
(The author is a senior IPS officer in Chhattisgarh. Views are personal)
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