Mumbai: The Pulwama attack in 2019 was an attempt by stakeholders independent of India and Pakistan to create regional conflagration and bring the two countries to war, said journalist and author Adrian Levy.
In a conversation with ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on ‘Off the Cuff’ Tuesday, Levy added that the Jaish-e-Mohammed, the militant organisation that claimed responsibility for the attack, was an asset of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) till 2002 but is now “enemy number one” for the agency.
Levy’s latest book ‘Spy Stories: Inside the Secret World of the RAW and the ISI’, co-authored by journalist Cathy Scott-Clark, talks about the alleged secret machinations between the two agencies.
“Jaish had existed until 2002 as a fully paid up asset of ISI, causing harm to India, but that has ceased to happen. They are enemy number one, they went to Al Qaeda, they flipped into Afghanistan, they continue to work with Al Qaeda,” said the author.
“What you see in Pulwama, if you look at the timing and the people involved and the forensics of the bomb, you see another attempt to create regional conflagration and bring Pakistan and India to war,” he added.
In February 2019, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a bus carrying a convoy of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, killing at least 40 soldiers on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
“When you consider things more holistically, an interesting thing to see is the role of ISI. It is in the nature of these things that the first reaction of Indian security services is to project everything as ISI, and yet what you have here when you look back at the trajectory (of Pulwama) of the people involved is that many of these people were themselves being hunted by ISI. They had set up an independent base where they had been training and operating,” said Levy.
He further noted that the bomb used in the Pulwama attack had the same forensic pathology as the device that blew up the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in 2008.
‘Crucial evidence withheld from courts in 2001 Indian Parliament attack’
Levy also spoke about the attack on the Indian Parliament in 2001, noting that crucial information was withheld and evidence was wrongly shaped by certain bad actors in the case.
In December 2001, five terrorists had entered the Parliament complex in an ambassador car. The terrorists opened fire and were subsequently killed along with eight security personnel and a gardener.
Mohammed Afzal Guru, a former Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front militant who had surrendered in 1994, was convicted and hanged to death for the attack in February 2013.
“My belief deep down is not that the institutions such as the judiciary, the police and the intelligence services are rotten or failing. But, it is a belief that if information is withheld then those services or those systems are stymied and that is what I believe happened with the Parliament attack,” said Levy.
“Crucial pieces of data were withheld from the courts, from the police. Not only withheld but some data was manufactured and for the first time we managed to pull together data that wasn’t seen. So when you talk about us having a controversial or different view, it is based on information not seen (earlier) rather than a re-analysis of information that is seen,” added the author, who has previously written books on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and also an intimate account of Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden’s life among others.
He further said that the principal cop in the investigation, Rajbir Singh, who was previously with the Special Task Force of the Kashmir Police, had a dubious record too.
By 2007, Levy said, there was a concerted attempt by some officers in the Intelligence Bureau to quietly push for a re-analysis of the Parliament attack.
“People would like the lessons learnt as to what happened, why it happened and what could have been done to prevent it. If you stymie that it is bad for the long-term offence and defence of the Indian security services.”
‘Kulbhushan Jadhav was hasty ad hoc operation’
According to Levy, the story of Kulbhushan Jadhav, who is on death row in Pakistan for allegedly being a RAW spy, was a hasty ad hoc operation and shows how a “spy game can have serious consequences”.
He said that the story of Jadhav, a Mumbai-based man with wife and children who became a tug of war between India and Pakistan, gives a glimpse into the ISI-RAW interplay.
“Somebody who was traveling with multiple passports that shows him to be of different faiths than what his birth certificate suggests, that also carried mismatched details. That gave away his story,” Levy said.
“He was being informally managed by many different agencies and that may be a terrible disaster for everybody, most of all for Jadhav himself. I would say RAW operates with great professionalism but the Jadhav story is not one of great professionalism. It is a hasty ad hoc operation,” he added.