An accidental discovery of a car key with number ‘1026’ engraved on it and a piece of thumb bone lying partially buried under snow near the site of the dastardly attack on CRPF convoy near Pulwama, Kashmir on 14 February 14, 2019, offered definitive, useful trail that helped intelligence agencies in zeroing in on the main bomber and other key conspirators.
Soon after the attack in which all the 39 CRPF soldiers died on the spot, both the security agencies and media thought the bomber involved must have been a non-Kashmiri – brainwashed and trained at a terror training camp run by Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) in Pakistan; common belief was that Kashmir militants lack both zeal and training to carry out an attack of such magnitude.
Therefore, for the ace police officer Rakesh Balwal, head of the J & K unit of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and his professional team it took painstaking efforts to get to the bottom of the case and uncover the entire conspiracy hatched by Masood Azhar Alvi, founder of JEM who wanted to take revenge for the killing of his nephew Usman Haider in an encounter with Indian security forces in Tral in October 2018.
Umar Farooq, cousin of Usman Haider, operating out of Kashmir was given the responsibility to coordinate an operation aimed at inflicting heavy damage to the Indian state.
What emerged conclusively from the investigation was that the terrorist who rammed his car into the convoy with 200 kg of explosive was not a foreigner but 21-year-old Adil Ahmed Dar, a resident of Kakapora, Pulwama -not far from the blast side.
Within hours of the attack, a pre-recorded video of Adil Ahmad Dar claimed responsibility for the attack. It was discovered later that the video was recorded in Hakripora village. But at that time NIA and others in the security establishment thought that it could be a ploy by JEM to mislead international media that the attack was carried out by a local Kashmiri.
The award-winning journalist and author Rahul Pandita is known for honest reporting and in-depth stories – particularly from Naxal hit areas and Kashmir.
In his latest deeply moving book THE LOVER BOY OF BAHAWALPUR: HOW THE PULWAMA CASE WAS CRACKED, Rahul provides vivid details of the final assault by the terrorist Adil Dar on the convoy. Backed with rigorous research, he unravels the role of other conspirators including flirtatious and already married Umar Farooq and his girl friend Insha Jan, a resident of Hakripora, Pulwama. Both she and her father confessed to the NIA that they were informers of the Jaish.
When reading Rahul’s book,I was reminded of Lt. Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi who on becoming the Chief of Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence, in May 1993, declared that his prime objective would be ‘to make ISI invisible again.’ The message was that for each of their covert actions, the ISI would now act with greater subtlety but with greater force, and make sure there was a civilian to blame – particularly in relation to terror activities in Kashmir.
It is against this background that Rahul’s book on the Pulwama attack is a major contribution to understanding the nature of terror cells operating in Kashmir under the overall supervision and command from across the border.
With extensive interactions with the key players including those of the investigating agencies, J & K police and villagers, Rahul pieces together all the dots to unravel the active role of LET in carrying out such a massive attack- the most deadly terrorist attack since the onset of militancy in 1990.
For his vivid, brilliantly written book, Rahul draws upon his own wide experiences as a reporter and knowledge of Kashmir: “At 3.15 pm, the CRPF convoy was speeding along on the four lane highway in Pulwama in South Kashmir. In another bus, a little behind the convoy, Constable Jaswinder saw the blue car with Dar behind the wheel overtaking them. … At another point on the highway, the Assistant Sub-Inspector saw the blue car swerve and get between two buses. Something was not right. He cocked his rifle and began running towards the car.”
But it was too late. The blue car carrying 200 kg of explosive rammed into the bus killing all the 39 CRPF personnel on board the bus. Many were lucky to survive. The designated driver of the bus ( HR 49F-0637) had proceeded on leave and Jaimal Singh had been asked for fill in for him; Luck also favoured constable Vasudev from Telegana, who was travelling in the same ill-fated bus and had got off to relieve himself, hopped back into another bus.
Based on interviews with the eye witnesses, Rahul delivers a deeply affecting account of the scene of the blast. He writes: ‘body parts were strewn all over. There was ahead here, a finger there, a piece of an intestine. And blood. It was as if a curtain of blood, stretching till the horizon.’
According to Suneem Khan, a Kashmiri doctor working with the CRPF who reached the spot soon after: “It was an apocalypse. Body parts were strewn all over. There was a head here, a finger there, a piece of intestine. And blood.”
With the help of Maruti engineers the Car key ‘1026’ was traced to Eeco car and after verifying the chassis number, it was found that it been sent to a prominent Maruti car dealer in Kashmir. After changing hands, it was bought by Sajjad Bhat 10 days before the attack in 2019. When the NIA team went looking for him, they found that he hadn’t been home for a couple of days after the blast. That was enough reason to raise suspicion, and finally Sajad was killed in an encounter. Mudasir Ahmed who had arranged the explosives too was killed in an encounter with the police.
Rahul quotes an NIA official that DNA samples extracted from the ‘meagre fragments of the car” were matched with Dar’s father to establish and confirm the suicide bomber’s identity.
“As journalists talked to Dar’s father, he offered up a similar story that every father of a terrorist repeats in Kashmir. He said Dar had felt humiliated after policemen beat him up a few years ago; he said he had no idea his son had turned into a suicide bomber. It would later become clear that Dar’s father knew his son had embarked on a dangerous path, Rahul writes.” What is not fully acknowledged is that there are vested interests in Kashmir which want young people to get radicalized even it means taking up a gun. Terrorists continue to be her-worshiped by a section of the local population.
It is quite remarkable how much Rahul has been able to pack in so much information in fewer than 200 pages. With never before published details about the Pulwama case, the Parliament attack and the Balakote strike undertaken in retaliation by India 12 days after the Pulwama attack- Rahul’s book makes for a powerful story but deeper reading presents a deeply disturbing dilemma for our security establishment: ‘We know how to kill a terrorist, but we do not know how to stop an innocent boy getting radicalised.’ Unfortunately, the radicalization is showing no signs of losing traction.
We also get to know of various encounters including one involving Jaish Commander Ghazi Baba- killed in his hideout. Published by Juggernaut, New Delhi, the book is both action packed and insightful, and holds readers’ interest till the end.
The book does not seek to entertain but certainly makes one think- particularly in view of the use of drones to attack vital installations. The death of Osama bin Laden ended the era of the cave dwelling terrorist isolated from the modern technology ecosystem. Nowadays terrorists rely on basic technologies and applications: WhatsApp groups/ chats, Google maps etc. to coordinate the attacks. In addition, Cyber terrorism will grow only graver.
(The author is works as Advisor (MC) with reputed Apeejay Education Society.)