by Sanjiv K Sood & Feroze Mithiborwala
Military Personnel and Civil Society Demand an Inquiry into the Pulwama Tragedy
A powerful high intensity blast occurred on February 14, 2019 at Ladoo crossing near Lethpora (Awantipur) in the Pulwama district of J&K blast was so powerful that 40 transients (CRPF Personnel) in the ill-fated Bus were martyred.
The responsibility for the attack was claimed by the Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad. A terrorist named Adil Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri Local, belonging to that organisation was identified as the attacker.
The CRPF convoy, consisting of 78 vehicles transporting more than 2,500 CRPF personnel from Jammu to Srinagar was travelling on National Highway 44. The convoy had left Jammu around 0330 hrs in the morning and was much larger than usual because the highway had remained shut for about a week due to heavy snowfall. In fact, the last convoy was on the 4th of February. At about 1510 hours when the first vehicle of convoy had gone about 100 meters ahead of Ladoo crossing towards Lethpora, the third vehicle, a non-Bullet-Proof- Bus, was rammed into by the suicide bomber after overtaking it.
The subsequent cynical exploitation of the incident for electoral gains, raises many questions which point towards failure of leadership at all levels, besides failure of intelligence agencies and troops on Ground. The revelations by dramatis personae Shri Satyapal Malik the then Governor of J&K raises many more questions about the tragedy which can be unravelled only by a high-level Supreme Court monitored inquiry or by a probe by Joint Parliamentary Committee.
The questions that need answering are listed below.
Part 1: Why were the requests for an Airlift not granted?
Why was the request of IG CRPF Extension of Air Courier Service to airlift the troops stranded at Transit Camp for over a week? Not accepting the genuine request in view of the fact that over 2500 troops were forced to live in squalor in the transit camp having capacity of only a few hundred is indicative of disdain of decision makers towards the troops. According to the report of the Dainik Bhaskar (27.02.2019), the Airlifts had been discontinued by July 2018. This air courier service was then restarted on the 21st of February, precisely seven days after the tragic incident. It is worth mentioning that fixed and Rotary wing aircrafts of BSF Air wing were readily available.
Retired IGP, CRPF VPS Panwar, who was a convoy commander in the Valley, told the Quint that an attack like this shows complete security failure and that it seems the senior officials ignored intelligence inputs. He further said that the ‘Movement of 78 vehicles in a convoy was like a sitting duck for the terrorists. I feel transporting so many jawans together was not a correct decision.’
Not airlifting the troops besides causing hardship to them also resulted in shortage of troops for operations in the field and heavy cost in terms of loss of precious life.
Part 2: Intelligence agencies must answer for multiple failures, negligence, and far worse. They must be held accountable!
In the aftermath of every terror attack, it is customary to blame it all on ‘intel failure’, but surprisingly for once, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) claimed there was none! But the CRPF claimed that there was an intel failure which led to the tragedy. Thus, astoundingly we have the MHA & the CRPF both making diametrically opposite claims.
Consider the following report wherein the Minister of State for Home Affairs, G. Kishan Reddy in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on the 19th of June 2019, said that there was no intel failure and that all the agencies were working in a coordinated manner and intelligence inputs were shared among various agencies on a real time basis.
The above is an emphatic claim, a claim that was countered by the CRPF!
As per reports the internal enquiry by CRPF into the incident, points towards intelligence and multiple other failures. The CRPF however refuses to share this report. The public has a right to know the facts. Therefore, why should the CRPF report not be made available in the public domain?
Immediately after the bombing, authorities announced that 350 Kg of explosive was used by the suicide bomber. Why could this intelligence not be developed prior to the incident? Assembly of such a large quantity of explosive, purchase of the vehicle and planning for operation would have taken a lot of time. Why could the Intelligence agencies not detect/intercept the foot prints electronic or otherwise of communication between the bomber and his handler.
A groundbreaking report by Anando Bhakto, published in Frontline on 21st February 2021, brings out that as many as eleven intelligence inputs shared between 2nd Jan 2019 and 13th Feb 2019, warning of a Pulwama type attack were ignored.
It also claims that agencies knew that Mudasir Ahmad Khan of Jaishe-E-Mohammad (JEM) was the mastermind planning a major attack on security forces and they had information of his movements in an area close to Pulwama. An intel input on the 25th of January even mentioned the names of the specific locations, namely, in the villages of Midoora and Lam Tral where Mudasir Khan had been spotted. Thus, the intel alerts were clearly present and were actionable.
A series of such alerts were given on January 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 18th, 21st, 22nd, as well as on February 1st, 8th, 9th, 12th and the 13th, up until the very last day, when finally, the Pulwama tragedy occurred on the 14th of February 2019.
The Intel alert issued on 8th February 2019, specifically stated the following – “Before Occupying Your Place of Deployment, Please Sanitise the Area Properly, as there are Inputs of Use of IED’s. Matter Most Urgent.
To further quote from another excellent article by Anando Bhakto – ‘Pulwama terror attack happened despite two successive actionable intelligence inputs’, dated February 14, 2019. “The documents in possession of Frontline establish three things. One, as early as January 24, 2019 there was informed opinion the Mudasir Ahmad Khan-led JeM module, which turned out to be the conspirator of the Pulwama strike, was working on a nefarious plot. Two, as early as January 25, 2019 there was knowledge of Mudasir Khan’s location. Thirdly, there was at least three weeks of time available to act on this specific intelligence and apprehend or exterminate Mudasir Khan & foil his Pulwama plot.”
The Corps Commander in a Press Conference on Feb 19th 2019 stated “I’m happy to inform the country that in less than 100 hours, we eliminated the JeM leadership in the Valley, which was being handled by JeM from Pakistan.” The fact that intelligence agencies could not identify, neutralise or apprehend them before the incident, is indicative of total callousness or far worse.
Part 3: The worrying case of Adil Ahmad Dar, the suicide bomber
Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. They also released a video of the assailant Adil Ahmad Dar (alias Adil Ahmad ‘Gaadi Takranewala’ or Waqas Commando), a 22-year-old from Kakapora who had joined the group one year ago. Dar’s family reportedly had last seen him in March 2018. A report published in Mumbai Mirror (Feb 17, 2019) states that Adil Ahmad Dar was earlier detained six times but never arrested. The report went on to say, “The 20-year-old Jaish operative was held on suspicion of providing logistical support to LeT on four separate occasions, but he was released without charge each time. Suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar, who carried out the deadliest attack on security forces in Kashmir, was detained six times between September 2016 and March 2018 for stone pelting and on suspicion of aiding activities of Pakistani terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba. A senior official with the central Intelligence Bureau (IB) and an officer with the Pulwama Police shared this information with Mirror on Saturday as they discussed his profile, and his switch from Lashkar to Jaish-e-Mohammad, in greater detail.”
This is indeed a highly worrying story, but worse was to follow.
A report by the Kashmir Times (9th October 2017) titled, 2 militants killed, another arrested also mentions an Adil Ahmad Dar. The report went on to say that, ‘The third militant Adil Ahmad Dar, sources said, rose from the rubble of the house and was apprehended by the forces along with his weapon. He, they said, was soon whisked away in a force’s vehicle for interrogation.’
The intelligence agencies have to answer the following questions. One, the Mumbai Mirror report says that – “The 20-year-old Jaish operative was held on suspicion of providing logistical support to LeT on four separate occasions, but he was released without charges each time.” So why was he allowed to go scott-free by the security forces, despite his known connections to militant organisations. Two, Adil Ahmad Dar is yet again mentioned in the Kashmir Times report. This report says that he was arrested & taken away by the security forces. Is he the very same Adil Ahmad Dar? Three, was he yet again released or then held in captivity? Four, when did Adil Ahmad Dar come out of custody, to then play the dastardly role of a suicide bomber?
These facts and questions are very crucial to unravelling the truth behind the Pulwama tragedy and they must be answered.
Part 4: Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), Operational Failure, Negligence or Worse!
The SOP to safeguard the military convoys on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway is as follows. It is the responsibility of the Road Opening Patrol (ROP) to secure and sanitise the entire highway. Its duty is to clear the path of any land mines or IED’s. The Highway is also secured by other Paramilitary forces, namely the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), whose duty is to secure the roads leading to the highway. The duty of the RR is to ensure that the entire surrounding area is free of militants. Here, each local unit of the RR is responsible to secure the area under its jurisdiction. The RR is aided by a unit of the Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS). The RR erects barricades at each and every road leading to the highway. Thus, each person or vehicle is checked for explosives, guns or any lethal weapons. The jawans of the RR also line the entire highway, standing apart at a distance of 200 metres, to ensure that no attacker can take them by surprise. With now greater availability of advanced technology, drones too are deployed to surveil the area. In certain cases, helicopter cover too is provided, especially when the land convoys are too large and have to pass through hostile territory.
Clearly the security leadership and the troops on ground failed to sanitise the route properly. The Road Opening Party was neither alert nor effective in domination of the area.
Thus arise another set of questions:
- If the vehicle of the suicide bomber came from the same direction as the convoy, how was it allowed to overtake several other vehicles of the convoy and ram into third vehicle in front of the convoy?
- If the vehicle of suicide bomber was travelling from the opposite direction, how was it allowed on wrong side of the one-way road?
- If the vehicle of the suicide bomber was stationary at the road for some time before the convoy reached there, how did the ROP not notice it or became suspicious of its presence?
- Initial reports of CRPF claimed that the explosion was accompanied by firing. If true, it implies that the ROP was not dominating the road effectively.
- Why were several small roads and tracks entering the highway not sanitised to prevent entry of any other vehicle to enter the highway when the convoy was expected.
- Why no action was taken to rectify the training deficiencies pointed out by an IG of CRPF Rajnish Rai on 18th Nov 2018
Part 5: The Curious Case of the Car, was it a Black SUV, or a Red Maruti Eeco?
This too is another crucial piece of the puzzle. All the initial reports, both official and media, stated that a SUV, a Scorpio Car, black in colour, was used in the suicide terror attack. Later that narrative was changed to a Maruti Eeco, Red in colour.
The questions that arise here are the following. How could the facts garnered from the eyewitnesses by the investigating agencies and the entire spectrum of the media get such a simple fact this wrong? The cars do not even look similar, as they are completely different models and colours. The narrative of the ‘Black SUV’ kept on appearing in the media till as late as February 2022, till three years after the tragedy.
In a blast where the mangled remains of the bus and the suicide vehicle were blown to smithereens, but yet the investigating agencies claimed to have confirmed the engine and chassis number of the car. This in itself is very difficult to comprehend or to believe. Firstly, could the numbers have survived a blast of this magnitude? The blast was so powerful that the bus parts were found a kilometre away. Secondly, are we really expected to believe that the terror cell that mounted such a massive operation would leave behind evidence that could be easily traced back to their operatives? Surely, they would have filed away the engine and chassis numbers.
Thus, do consider the reports as below from the NDTV, Times of India & the India Today, as they all refer to a Black SUV as the car used in the suicide attack.
In fact, do refer to the story filed by Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu, on February 3, 2022, for the India Today. It goes on to refer to ‘An internal inquiry conducted by the CRPF has revealed that multiple intelligence lapses led to heavy casualties in the Pulwama terror attack.’ It further goes on to refer to the SUV – ‘The SUV moved in zigzags before driving into the convoy. The inquiry has recommended posthumous gallantry award for ASI Mohan Lal, a resident of Uttarkashi Barkot village, who was blown up to smithereens. In the last seconds before his death, the ASI showed immense courage by trying to stop the raging vehicle.’ The article further stated that – ‘Sources said that the 15-page report was submitted to DG, CRPF in May, with his observations noted and put up before the court of inquiry.’
Thus, the official internal inquiry report of the CRPF refers to a SUV and not to a Maruti Red Eeco.
Thus, the question – was the evidence being fabricated?
Part 6: The Curiouser case of PM Modi & Governor Satyapal Malik
Even after more than four years of the Pulwama tragedy, crucial questions and actions, or rather the supposed inaction by the PM, as well as the Home Minister Rajnath Singh, NSA Chief Ajit Doval & principal secretary to the PM, Nripendra Mishra, all remain unclear, shrouded in a veil.
The narrative that the nation was given to believe is that the PM was in a photoshoot at the Corbett National Park with the Discovery Channel & that he remained incommunicado for more than three hours after the tragedy, as the PM finally tweeted on this matter at 6.46pm. A timeline of the PM’s whereabouts on that fateful day have been covered by The Wire, February 23, 2019.
But after the recent revelations by Shri Satyapal Malik (former Governor, J&K, Meghalaya & Goa), now that very narrative stands on its head. It was in mid-April that Shri Satyapal Malik in an interview with journalist Prashant Tandon revealed that the PM Modi called him an hour after the attack & told him to essentially “shut up” – “chup raho” and not utter a word to the media. Earlier, the Governor had told the media that the terror attack was due to “our mistakes”, as we had not provided airlifts to the personnel despite repeated formal requests. Satyapal Malikji also received a similar phone call from Ajit Doval, who too asked him to shut up.
The former governor also said that if the CRPF had asked him to arrange the airlift, he would have done the needful as he has organised airlifts for students who needed to attend their exams. It was basically as easy as that. Then, the question is why did the MHA keep on refusing the repeated requests by the BSF & the CRPF for airlifts?
Ominously, Satyapal Malikji has also gone on to refer to a bomb laden car that was moving around 10-12 days prior to the terror attack. Do refer to his interview with Karan Thapar, “Pulwama, Modi, Corruption: Full Explosive Transcript of Satya Pal Malik’s Viral Interview”.
None of the statements by Satyapal Malik have been challenged or countered by either the government or by the corporate media. They have decided to ignore and blackout the entire matter, but the issues raised by Satyapal Malik are gaining a life of their own due to social media. Thus, crores of people are now aware of the issues raised by the venerable governor.
- Thus, the timeline surely changes and with that, more serious questions have come to the fore.
- The blast took place at 3.10 pm, after which Satyapal Malik went on record for the media channels.
- Then, says Satyapal Malikji, that PM Modi called him from a Dhaba after an hour, say 4.10pm.
- Then at 5.10pm, PM Modi addresses a meeting in Rudrapaur via phone, but fails to mention the Pulwama terror attack, which is just bizarre to say the least.
- The PM finally leaves Corbett National Park between 6.40pm or 7.30pm (Amar Ujala, February 15, 2019).
The obvious questions that arise now are the following:
- Why did PM Modi call from a Dhaba? Shouldn’t the PM be connected to the PMO, NSA & MHA via a Satellite Phone? Isn’t it just ridiculous to believe that the PM was totally cut-off, disconnected from the security structure for over two to three hours, as has been the narrative that we have been given?
- Going by Satyapal Malikji’s statement, why didn’t the PM immediately go to Delhi in his helicopter after he called him from the Dhaba? The PM should have done so to take control over a dire situation.
- Despite requests from The Wire over an email, the PMO has refused to clarify the questions thus posed.
- Far worse is the fact that Satyapal Malik, the Constitutional head of state, was kept in the dark and wasn’t provided any of the Intel Alerts that we have earlier referred to in the document. Who is to be held accountable, the MHA, the NSA… – who?
As was recently stated by General Shankar Roy Choudhary, who served as the country’s 18th Chief of Staff, ‘The primary responsibility behind the loss of the lives in Pulwama rests on the government headed by the Prime Minister, who is advised by the National Security Adviser. This was a setback’. (Telegraph, 17.04.2023)
We have presented certain crucial facts and raised a number of crucial questions – questions that require to be answered. If we are to prevent such tragedies from occurring again, we strongly believe that a high level of transparency and accountability is the need of the hour, Such tragedies lead to the deaths and suffering of innumerable families who have to pay the consequences for the actions of those in the higher echelons of power. It’s time that we lifted the veil of secrecy over the Pulwama tragedy & thus punitive action must begin at home against the errant officials.
It is in this context we demand a national inquiry into the Pulwama tragedy. Justice for the martyrs of Pulwama can only be served when all those responsible for the tragedy are held accountable and punished. Transparency and accountability are the need of the hour and will only serve to strengthen our national security and prevent loss of precious lives.
Sanjiv K Sood (Additional Director General, Border Security Force, Retd) & Feroze Mithiborwala (Writer, Researcher)