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‘Army’s secret Division would have prevented Samba-like encounters’
MADHAV NALAPAT  New Delhi | 28th Sep 2013

Indian army soldiers gather behind a small wall during an attack by militants on an army camp at Mesar in Samba District, some 20km south-east of Jammu on Thursday, Sept 26, 2013.

he Samba attack by Pakistan-based elements could have been avoided if the Technical Services Division (TSD) had not been shut down a year ago, claim senior military officers who wish to remain unnamed. Speaking to them, it becomes clear that the decision by incoming Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Bikram Singh to shut down the TSD of the Army immediately upon taking charge from General V.K. Singh a year ago has been greeted with dismay by his own officers, especially those on the frontline of Pakistan terror. These officers say that the scrapping of the TSD is a major reason why there has been a spurt in cross-border intrusions over the past year, and warn that unless the organisation gets re-established, counter-insurgency operations will suffer.

"The decision to finish off TSD was political and not military. It was done to show (former COAS) General V.K. Singh in a bad light," a senior officer commented, while another claimed that "the TSD enabled our boys to get prior information on the movements of terror groups, so that these were caught before sneaking into India". He claimed that "despite the effort by the ISI to create a Kashmir Intifada by motivating youngsters to pelt stones at security forces, the situation was quickly brought under control." An officer claimed that the TSD was able to use technical means to operate deep within Pakistan and find out the trajectories of terror plots against targets in India. "At a cost of just Rs 20-30 crore annually, the Army was able to finally reach the actual sources of terror operations and not just tackle the symptoms," a former officer claimed.

The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack of 2008 showed the need for the army to go beyond its focus on the Line of Control and run sources deep inside Pakistan. In March 2009, a meeting took place to discuss this need, and then COAS General Deepak Kapoor asked Military Intelligence to work on a position paper, which was approved by Defence Minister A.K. Antony soon after its submission in October. The proposed TSD was to function under the Director-General of Military Intelligence, who would audit its funds and give operational directives. However, although the proposal had been cleared, it was not implemented until General V.K. Singh took over as COAS in April 2010. Among the tasks of the new unit were to keep a watch on separatists and other pro-Pakistan elements, as well as identify and record the groups and individuals seeking to destabilise the Kashmir valley. The getting of sources from within Pakistan was a high priority. The 2010 Intifada, which was countered less by standard police procedure than by an "information war" (Infowar) pointing out the harm the movement was doing to the physical and financial well-being of residents of the valley. A senior officer then in J&K admitted that "some NGOs which promoted peace and conciliation were funded by the TSD, but such expenditure was nothing compared to ISI cash pouring into the valley".

Among the examples of Infowar carried out by the TSD were the securing of numerous videos showing the maltreatment of locals in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir by Pakistan army personnel, and the humiliation that locals had to daily endure, besides their economic hardship. "We showed the valley that life was hell on the other side, and this hurt the pro-Pakistan groups who painted a rosy picture of the other side," an officer claimed. His colleague claimed that "at least three dozen terror plots against targets in India were discovered because of the TSD, and foiled". He added that the (26 September 2013) Samba attack "showed the problem created by removing the TSD 'eye' from the armoury of the army". He added that the attack showed that "military intelligence needed to operate not only just across the LoC but deep within Pakistan to be effective". He warned that the "peace group (now running policy) had taken away from the army the right to a robust response to provocations after first draining it of Infowar capability". Another claimed that "these days, only officers who are more adept in cultivating superiors rather than in fighting get ahead" and warned that this would "affect the success of war operations, where courage and improvisation are key to victory".

The officers claimed to have no knowledge of any TSD connection with an NGO that filed a complaint against the present COAS, General Bikram Singh, over the 2001 Janglath Mandi encounter, in which a 70-year-old local resident (who seems to have been indigent) has been identified by the army as a dangerous militant, who shot and killed the commanding officer of a unit as well as injuring then Lt Gen Bikram Singh. The NGO claimed that the alleged militant was only a bystander and that he was killed in the crossfire between two units of the army, one of which mistook the other to be terrorists. A source close to the present COAS says that Gen Bikram Singh "is a very bold officer and just because a man is 70 years old, does not mean he cannot be a threat". The military has consistently taken Gen Bikram Singh's side of the story, even while Gen V.K. Singh was COAS, and has refused to conduct any fresh investigations into the encounter that left both the alleged terrorist as well as an army officer dead and the present COAS injured.

About news reports that Gen V.K. Singh snooped on officials and politicians using off-air interceptors ordered by Military Intelligence, a source pointed out that only one of the interceptors was in army use, "and that on the LoC and not Delhi". He said that the other vehicles were in the possession of the NTRO. When then Defence Secretary (and now Comptroller and Auditor General) Sashikant Sharma ordered an inquiry into all such matters in July 2012, the Board of Officers concluded that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing. Interestingly, the role of the officer who actually ordered the purchase of the off-air interceptors has never been probed. This has, however, not prevented a spate of reports from coming out about the TSD, thereby obscuring its utility as a low-budget instrument both for collection of information about hostile elements and for the conduct of Infowar in sensitive theatres.

 
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