Pulwama Revisited

Why were intelligence inputs ahead of Pulwama attack ignored?

Print edition : March 12, 2021

After an encounter in which Mudasir Khan, the key conspirator behind the Pulwama attack, was killed in Pinglish village of Tral, 40 km south of Srinagar, on March 11, 2019. Photo: NISSAR AHMAD/THE HINDU

Frontline is now in possession of official documents that underscore the point that the whereabouts of the Pulwama attack’s key conspirator, Mudasir Ahmed Khan, and his nefarious intent to launch a fidayeen strike were known to intelligence agencies.

Ever since the fidayeen attack on a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) convoy in Lethpora, Pulwama, on February 14, 2019, which claimed the lives of 40 paramilitary personnel, there have been pressing questions in people’s minds about how the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) was able to carry out such a huge terror operation without the security agencies getting a whiff of it.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime at the Centre has so far successfully suppressed those questions. India’s vast network of pliant media houses has helped the government in doing this by making it appear that asking questions about the intelligence failure that made the attack possible constitutes an affront to the integrity of India’s security and intelligence agencies and that of the government. All such questions, according to this narrative of hyper nationalism, deserve to be rejected stridently.

However, Frontline is now in possession of official documents that underscore the point that the whereabouts of the Pulwama attack’s key conspirator, Mudasir Ahmed Khan, and his nefarious intent to launch a fidayeen strike were known to intelligence agencies. The information was shared with all relevant authorities as early as January 24 and January 25 in 2019, three weeks before the ambush took place.

The intelligence inputs were specific and actionable. And, they came against the backdrop of a series of intelligence reports in January 2019 that pointed in no uncertain terms to an impending fidayeen strike by the JeM as part of its “Qisas” (retribution) mission.
Also read: Pulwama attack happened despite 2 successive intelligence inputs

On January 24, there was an intelligence alert that a Jaish terror module led by Mudasir Khan was coordinating with another Jaish module led by Shahid Baba to execute a suicide attack on security personnel or security establishments. The intelligence input read: “Reports reveal that (2/3) FTs of JeM outfit have reported to JeM militant Mudasir Khan @ Mohammad Bhai group Awantipora for carrying out some special task viz. major fidayeen attack in coming days. The group is also in contact with Shahid Baba group of JeM Rajpora Pulwama.” The following day, another intelligence input revealed the whereabouts of Mudasir Khan and said that at least four foreign mercenaries were accompanying him: “Newly arrived group of foreign militants about 04 in number with one local JeM militant Mudasir Ahmed Khan have been spotted in villages Midoora and Lam Tral...”

There is no plausible explanation as to why these inputs were not followed by immediate and urgent action to apprehend or eliminate the assailants, including Mudasir Khan, and foil their terror plot.

There were at least three immediate reasons to nab or pin down Mudasir Khan and his associates. One, the information about his whereabouts and terror plot followed several intelligence inputs earlier in the same month (January 2019). Those inputs had pointed to the Jaish’s resolve to avenge the killing of its chief Masood Azhar’s nephew Talha Rasheed in November 2017 and four other affiliates in December 2018 by security forces. Two, Mudasir Khan was not an inconsequential terrorist. He was a fugitive and was wanted in connection with several terror incidents. As per a report published in a national English news portal, the 23-year-old Jaish commander “had played a role in last year’s [2018] suicide attack on the Sunjuwan Army Camp in which six personnel and a civilian were killed and was also wanted in connection with the 2017 Lethpora attack on a CRPF camp that claimed the lives of five personnel”. Three, at the time of the generation of the input, Mudasir Khan was leading a Jaish module in south Kashmir. Days later, when Shahid Baba was eliminated by the security forces on February 1, 2019, Mudasir Khan assumed the leadership of Baba’s module as well.

It is pertinent to mention that the 19-year-old suicide bomber Adil Ahmad Dar, who executed the Pulwama attack, was affiliated with the Shahid Baba group. In the days preceding the ambush, it is likely that he took instructions from Mudasir Khan.

Highly placed sources in Jammu and Kashmir’s intelligence grid, who spoke to this reporter on condition of anonymity, maintain that it was possible “to get hold of Mudasir Khan”. According to these sources, the actionable intelligence inputs about Mudasir Khan were generated with the help of “human intelligence”, from informers among the local population who are part of the security grid’s vast surveillance structure across the Kashmir Valley. One of the sources said: “It was on January 22 that it was learnt through local informers that Mudasir Khan and Shahid Baba were planning ‘something big’ and that the two were seen coordinating and moving around in villages Midoora and Lam Tral.”
Also read: 11 intelligence inputs warning of Pulwama attack were ignored

The sources are of the view that it was possible to nab Mudasir Khan with the help of some “overground workers” who were close to him but were also coordinating with the agencies. One senior officer remarked, “Once you zero in on a particular terrorist who is a local, it is not difficult to trace him. You can coerce the family, the neighbours; there are ways beyond normal policing that we employ...”

This reporter made phone calls to S.P. Pani, who was at that time the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir, for his comment. The calls were neither answered nor returned. Mudasir Khan was eliminated about three weeks after the Pulwama attack. On March 11 that year, the Jaish commander was killed in a gun battle in Pinglish village, Tral, along with a Pakistani terrorist who went by the code name Khalid.

The question in everyone’s mind is: Why was Mudasir Khan not apprehended or eliminated before the terror strike with all the intelligence inputs available?

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