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Drones threat flagged for long but govt slept over it, journalist-author Rahul Pandita claims

Rahul Pandita discusses drone strike at IAF station while talking to ThePrint about his new book, Lover Boy of Bahawalpur: How the Pulwama Case was Cracked, about the 2019 attack.

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New Delhi: Drones bringing drugs, arms and ammunition into Jammu from Pakistan have been a “serious concern for long”, but the government “slept over it and chose to do nothing about it for months” despite being informed about the threat, said author and journalist Rahul Pandita.

Pandita, whose latest book Lover Boy of Bahawalpur: How the Pulwama Case was Cracked details the investigation into the 2019 attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel, was speaking to ThePrint in the context of the drone attack on the Jammu Air Force station last week.

The attack, which saw explosives being dropped into the critical defence premises, left two IAF personnel injured.

Pandita, a Kashmiri Pandit who fled the Valley with his family as a teenager in 1990, at the peak of militancy, has emerged as a prominent voice on the tense region. 

His new book discusses how the National Investigation Agency (NIA), investigating the Pulwama attack, hit one dead end after the other before managing to crack open the case. It also details how the Pulwama mastermind sneaked into Indian territory with 200 kg of RDX, and the planning of the attack.

In his interview to ThePrint, Pandita said it was in the course of research for his book that he found out about the use of drones across the international border.  

“In the process of writing my book, I visited the international border in Jammu. I went to Samba, where some of the tunnels used by infiltrators were detected and found that the usage of drones, sometimes in cooperation with the residue of Khalistani extremists in Punjab, was becoming a serious concern,” he said.

“The authorities were extremely worried about it and have been trying to flag their concerns to New Delhi but they slept over it and chose to do nothing about it for months,” he added. “This threat is not something new and has been there for some time.”

Also Read: Jammu drone attack seen as an attempt to harm LoC ceasefire, disrupt Kashmir political process

‘India has no technology to counter this threat’

According to Pandita, what is a matter of concern is that, until now, drones had only been ferrying arms and drugs. But, he said, Pakistan now has the technology to equip these drones with payloads, which has the potential to cause a lot of damage. India, he added, has no technology as of now to counter the threat.

“What is extremely worrying now is that Pakistan has come up with this ability to put payloads along with it (drones). They can now guide these to any military installation or civilian area, wherever they want to strike. And strike any place with impunity,” he said. “And, as of now, we do not have any technology to counter it.”

Pandita said it was “high time that the authorities wake up and see this as a very potent, significant threat to India in the coming months”. 

“We must remember that even the Taliban has used this very effectively in attacking targets in Afghanistan,” he added. “And it is a matter of time before some big tragedy happens.”

‘Pakistan has never been serious about ceasefire’

The Jammu drone attack came amid a somewhat peaceful situation on the India-Pakistan border, with the two countries agreeing this February to strictly implement the ceasefire agreement of 2003. 

Speaking about the drone attack in the context of the ceasefire, Pandita said Pakistan has never been serious about such an initiative.

“A ceasefire actually means that you have to cease any sort of terror activity or aggression towards the other party. The firing at the borders may have stopped but with this drone activity at the border, it becomes a serious threat,” he said. 

“In Kashmir, no attack has happened without a go-ahead from the Jaish leadership (Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed), which is in cahoots with the Pakistan ISI,” he added. “These attacks are continuing. A police officer and his entire family was wiped out in a recent attack. The challenge is on,” he said, referring to the attack last week that saw terrorists barge into a J&K special police officer’s home in Pulwama and shoot him, his wife and his daughter dead. 

Pandita said India has to be aware — and act — to tackle this new threat.

“India has to remain awake and aware of the new threats, latest technological advancements used by terror groups to launch themselves from Pakistan, to counter new technological advancements like drones and that is where the next big headache for India is going to be,” he said.

Also Read: Nano, micro, small: The different drone types in India & if Jammu-like strike can be averted

The ‘lover boy’  

Speaking about the Pulwama investigation, Pandita said he chose to write a book about it because it was an “intriguing case”.

“Initially, there were no clues, the investigation kept hitting dead ends but then the case unraveled. As a storyteller, it is fascinating how this case reveals itself. It is a combination of hard work and lucky strides,” he added. 

“Just like some divine force wanted investigators to find these clues.”

The book mentions how a damaged mobile phone, recovered from an encounter site and lying in a malkhana (godown), proved to be a vital clue that finally led to solving the case. 

“The damaged phone was recovered after an encounter and was accessed through technical help.When the phone opened, it had a photo of the main perpetrators along with the mastermind, their faces smeared with silver explosive and that was a breakthrough,” Pandita said.

The “lover boy” referred to in the title is Umar Farooq, nephew of Jaish found Masood Azhar and a key accused in the case. When asked why he referred to Farooq as a “lover boy”, Pandita said, “Lover boy is someone who has multiple lovers and not someone who is loyal to one person. With that title, I tried to reflect upon the ruthlessness and manipulative powers of someone like Farooq.”

Farooq was killed in an encounter a month after the Pulwama attack.

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)

Also Read: Why countering ‘low-tech drone terror’ is going to be a big challenge for India


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