Satya Pal Malik, the former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, revealed that the Pulwama terror attack was a result of systemic failure, involving gross security and intelligence lapses. He asserted that the tragedy was exploited for political gains. Malik claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had instructed him to remain silent after he brought to light the security lapses that led to the attack, which resulted in the death of 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel on February 14, 2019. Separately, Malik added that National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval also advised him to refrain from speaking about it.
Malik made these disclosures during an interview with The Wire, sparking a political controversy with opposition parties demanding a response from Prime Minister Modi and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who was the Union Home Minister at the time of the CRPF convoy attack. Speaking to senior journalist Karan Thapar, Malik blamed “incompetence” and “negligence” on the part of the CRPF and the Home Ministry under Rajnath Singh. He maintained that the CRPF had requested aircraft to transport jawans, but the demand was rejected by the ministry.
When asked if the Pulwama attack was a consequence of incompetence within the Indian system involving security lapses and intelligence failures, Malik stated, “It was a collective failure. The car carrying 300 kilograms of RDX explosives, which was used to attack the CRPF convoy, had come from Pakistan and remained undetected while traveling around in Kashmir for 10-15 days.”
Malik served as Jammu and Kashmir’s last Governor. During his tenure from August 2018 to October 2019, the elected assembly of the former state was dissolved, following which Articles 370 and 35 A were abrogated, resulting in the division of Jammu and Kashmir into two centrally administered Union Territories. In October 2019, Malik was transferred and posted as Goa Governor.
The recent disclosures by former Governor Malik in his interview endorse Frontline’s investigation, which concluded, “There were at least 11 intelligence inputs between January 2, 2019, and February 13, 2019, pointing to a macabre ‘Qisas (retribution) mission’ in the making, one that culminated eventually in the attack on a security convoy in Lethpora, Pulwama.” The report, published in February 2019, revealed that the agencies, and likely the government, were aware that a terror strike could be launched on the route of the security forces. They also had information that Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) terror commander Mudasir Ahmed Khan, who was later identified as the mastermind behind the Pulwama attack, was moving around in Midoora and Lam Tral villages in late January 2019. Importantly, as per the Frontline report, the agencies were also aware that Mudasir Ahmed Khan was working with four foreign mercenaries on a “major fidayeen attack in the coming days.”
Several documents pertaining to intelligence inputs, examined by Frontline, revealed that just 24 hours prior to the devastating strike, an intelligence input dated February 13, 2019, had been shared with, among others, the Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir, and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Kashmir. The input had warned them of an IED attack by the JEM “along the routes of security forces.” The complete report can be read here.
“Please stay silent on this.”
During his interview with The Wire, when asked about adverse intelligence reports from January through mid-February and why 1,000 CRPF jawans were transported by road in a large convoy, which made them vulnerable, Malik responded, “CRPF personnel had requested aircraft to transport their personnel because such a large convoy does not normally travel by road. They had made the request to the Home Ministry, then held by Rajnath Singh, who refused. If they had asked me, I would have provided the aircraft. They had requested five aircraft.”
Malik further revealed that he had discussed the security lapses with PM Modi when the latter had called him from outside Corbett Park in Uttarakhand, where he was shooting for the Discovery channel’s ‘Man Vs Wild’ show at the time of the attack. “I told the Prime Minister the same evening (after the incident) that it happened due to our mistake. If we had provided them with aircraft, it could have been averted. He (PM) told me, ‘You keep quiet for the time being.’ I had already told one or two TV channels about it. He (PM) said, ‘Don’t talk about it. This is something else...’. Ajit Doval (NSA) also told me the same thing, ‘Satpal bhai (brother), you don’t talk about it. Please stay silent on this’,” Malik continued, mentioning that Ajit Doval had been his classmate. “I realised that the blame will now be shifted towards Pakistan, so I better keep quiet,” he added. When asked if the incident was used to win the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Malik responded in the affirmative.
In an earlier interview, Malik had stated that the convoy route was not properly sanitized and security measures were inadequate. He shared details with Karan Thapar, saying, “Of course, the route wasn’t sanitized. There are at least 8-10 link roads connected to the route, and specifically in that area, these junctions should have been manned to ensure that nobody could enter that route. But nothing was done.” Blaming the Union Home Ministry and the CRPF, he added that the terror attack happened due to their “incompetence” and “laparvahi” (negligence). He agreed with Thapar’s conclusion that the “buck stops with Rajnath Singh,” claiming that he would have resigned if he had been the Home Minister at the time of the incident. “It was a great tragedy in the life of the nation. At least 40 valuable jawans were sacrificed due to our incompetence,” he said.
“He wasn’t that kind of anti-national.”
Regarding the alleged conspiratorial role played by DSP Davinder Singh, who was dismissed from the service in 2021 after reportedly being caught ferrying militants of Hizbul Mujahideen, Malik said he knew the DSP, who would often receive him at the Srinagar airport. “He wasn’t that kind of anti-national,” Malik said, dismissing doubts over Singh’s involvement in the terror attack. Notably, in January 2020, the Director General of Police (DGP) Jammu and Kashmir, Dilbag Singh, had told the media that the DSP’s alleged involvement in the Parliament attack—as alleged previously by Afzal Guru, who was convicted for being part of the plot to attack Parliament and was hanged for circumstantial evidence in 2013—would also be looked into.
When asked if the full truth about what happened at Pulwama would ever be known, Malik replied, “The government has good reasons to hide it and use it for some other purposes. The tragedy was used for something else. Instead of going into the root cause of the matter, we shifted the blame somewhere else for political benefits.”
Known for his frequent run-ins with the central government, Malik was denied an extension as Governor of Meghalaya after his tenure ended on October 3 last year. During the year-long farmers’ agitation at the Delhi borders, his critical comments didn’t go down well with the ruling BJP and the Modi government. One such remark has featured in the banned song ‘SYL’ that was released after the murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala. Last month, Malik slammed the Modi government for withdrawing his Z-plus security, saying if anything untoward were to happen, the government should be held responsible.