Dirty Tricks

A PO­LIT­I­CALLY AM­BI­TIOUS GEN­ERAL AND A BUNGLING GOV­ERN­MENT PUT NA­TIONAL SE­CU­RITY AT RISK

India Today - - INSIDE - By San­deep Un­nithan and Asit Jolly

A po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious gen­eral and a bungling gov­ern­ment put na­tional se­cu­rity at risk.

Or­gan­is­ing eight bomb at­tacks in a neigh­bour­ing coun­try. Sub­si­dis­ing se­ces­sion on enemy ter­ri­tory. Sponsoring ‘ friendly’ min­is­ters to desta­bilise an in­dige­nous state gov­ern­ment. Eaves­drop­ping on se­nior gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies in­clud­ing In­dia’s de­fence min­is­ter. For­mer army chief Vi­jay Ku­mar Singh al­legedly used the Tech­ni­cal Sup­port Di­vi­sion ( TSD), a clan­des­tine col­lec­tive of hand­picked mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel, to set­tle scores on both sides of the con­tentious Line of Con­trol ( LOC) be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia. It was a se­cret war con­ceived by a reck­less gen­eral be­tween 2010 and 2012. And even 16 months af­ter his un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous re­tire­ment, the gen­eral has not stopped fight­ing. Now the tar­get is the Gov­ern­ment, which is match­ing the gen­eral’s tricks with its own. The col­lat­eral dam­age of the dirty war be­tween the two is na­tional se­cu­rity.

Barely 24 hours af­ter his I- know- it- all procla­ma­tion on na­tional tele­vi­sion on Septem­ber 23, that the Army had “trans­ferred funds to all min­is­ters in Jammu and Kash­mir since 1947”, Singh scur­ried for cover. His com­ments trig­gered a firestorm of in­dig­nant counter- al­le­ga­tions all the way from Delhi to Sri­na­gar. The pay­outs, he in­sisted, were not “bribes” or for “po­lit­i­cal pur­pose”, but part of the larger ini­tia­tive to pro­mote sta­bil­ity in the in­sur­gency- rid­den state. On Septem­ber 27, just hours be­fore Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh was to meet his coun­ter­part Nawaz Sharif in New York, the ten­u­ous peace was shat­tered yet again when ter­ror­ists struck with twin at­tacks on a po­lice sta­tion and an army post in Jammu killing 12 per­sons in­clud­ing four sol­diers and two po­lice­men. The at­tack un­der­scored ground re­al­i­ties in In­dia’s most sen­si­tive state. The gen­eral’s clar­i­fi­ca­tions, an al­most sur­rep­ti­tious mono­logue de­liv­ered to se­lect re­porters on the lawns of his Sec­tor 30 home in Gur­gaon, are how­ever only a brief pause in his long shoot- and- scoot war that has sim­mered since the Gov­ern­ment re­fused to

amend his date of birth in 2011. This would not only have given him 10 more months in of­fice but also changed the ex­pected line of suc­ces­sion for the Army’s top job.

Hos­til­i­ties be­tween Singh and the Gov­ern­ment, that had fes­tered over the past year, ex­ploded af­ter a Septem­ber 20 news­pa­per re­port ex­pos­ing “unau­tho­rised covert op­er­a­tions” by TSD, which was set up un­der Singh’s di­rect con­trol in May 2010 barely a month af­ter he took over as the army chief. Stark among the list of mis­de­meanours was Rs 1.19 crore the in­tel­li­gence unit had re­port­edly paid Jammu and Kash­mir Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Ghu­lam Has­san Mir to “top­ple” Omar Ab­dul­lah’s gov­ern­ment in the sum­mer of 2010.

Though Mir re­jected the charge and of­fered him­self for an “open, time­bound” in­ves­ti­ga­tion in a writ­ten state­ment on Septem­ber 25, Singh’s claim that the Army had trans­ferred money to “all” J& K min­is­ters sent main­stream politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal par­ties into a tail­spin. For­mer deputy chief min­is­ter Muzaf­far Hus­sain Baig of the Peo­ples Demo­cratic Party ( PDP) said “the for­mer chief has, in a sin­gle day, harmed pro- In­dia pol­i­tics in Kash­mir more than Pak­istan’s In­ter- Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence ( ISI) had man­aged in sev­eral decades”. Shocked into si­lence for nearly a week since the first rev­e­la­tions, Chief Min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah also ad­mit­ted, “The gen­eral has cre­ated un­told prob­lems for main­stream par­ties work­ing in the Val­ley.” The gen­eral should have been more re­strained on mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity, es­pe­cially while speak­ing about covert op­er­a­tions in Kash­mir.

The Gov­ern­ment, too, not only sat on a damn­ing in­quiry re­port on TSD by Lt- Gen Vinod Bha­tia, di­rec­tor gen­eral, Mil­i­tary Op­er­a­tions, for six months but added to the sus­pi­cion that the leak was timed with the gen­eral’s open al­liance with BJP prime min­is­te­rial can­di­date Naren­dra Modi at Re­wari in Haryana on Septem­ber 15. There are no win­ners in this bat­tle. In­dia’s na­tional se­cu­rity and the rep­u­ta­tion of the armed forces are the losers. Both the gen­eral and the Gov­ern­ment are an­swer­able. On Septem­ber 25, se­nior gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who ac­compa- nied Prime Min­is­ter Singh to the US, an­nounced yet another probe: Into Gen­eral Singh’s al­le­ga­tions and the as­ser­tions in the Army re­port.

THE SHADOWUNIT

At the core of the con­tro­versy is TSD. Some­time af­ter Gen­eral V. K. Singh took over as the 26th chief of army staff in early 2010, army cir­cles be­gan buzzing with whispers of a mys­te­ri­ous new or­gan­i­sa­tion, a spy agency within a spy agency. It com­prised six of­fi­cers, five JCOs and 30 men and op­er­ated out of an un­marked two- sto­ried build­ing within the Delhi Can­ton­ment dubbed the ‘ Butch­ery’, that was a re­fur­bished slaugh­ter­house of colo­nial times. The di­vi­sion was headed by Colonel Mu­n­ish­war Nath Bak­shi, a tall, flam­boy­ant in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in his early 40s, bet­ter known by an un­usual nick­name, ‘ Hunny’. TSD ful­filled none of the manda­tory gov­ern­ment re­quire­ments. It was what the army calls an ‘ ad hoc’ rais­ing with no for­mal sanc­tion, no ‘ war es­tab­lish­ment au­tho­ri­sa­tion’ which would al­low per­son­nel to be posted to it and hence no ‘ unit statisti-

cal num­ber’ which would al­low the Gov­ern­ment to dis­burse salaries. TSD staff was shown as at­tached to the Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence’s MI- 25, an in­tel­li­gence unit within the Delhi Can­ton­ment, headed by a bri­gadier.

The ori­gin and man­date of TSD are un­clear. Army of­fi­cials say it was meant for op­er­a­tions in ‘ coun­tries of in­ter­est’ and in J& K and in the North- east where the Army was in­volved in counter- in­sur­gency roles and pro­tected by the Armed Forces Spe­cial Pow­ers Act ( AFSPA). The unit was so se­cret that Colonel Bak­shi re­ported di­rectly to the chief, un­prece­dented in a hi­er­ar­chi­cal Army. Bak­shi’s prox­im­ity— he had served with Gen­eral V. K. Singh in his pre­vi­ous ap­point­ments in J& K and later in the North- east— sparked peer envy. It quickly turned to ha­tred when field in­tel­li­gence units op­er­at­ing along the bor­ders found that their se­cret ser­vice funds, the an­nual al­lo­ca­tion of around Rs 50 crore which was dis­trib­uted among the var­i­ous li­ai­son units for pay­ing in­for­mants and spies, had been halved by the Direc­torate of Mil­i­tary In­tel­li­gence in Delhi. The funds be­gan to be di­verted to TSD. For­ma­tion com­man­ders found TSD per­son­nel op­er­at­ing in bor­der ar­eas with­out their knowl­edge, some­times car­ry­ing out coun­tert­er­ror­ist op­er­a­tions mir­ror­ing their own. At least one gen­eral com­plained to Singh about TSD’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Kash­mir. Over the next few months, as Singh bat­tled the Gov­ern­ment over a change in his date of birth, ref­er­ences to TSD re­peat­edly cropped up in the me­dia, only to be de­nied by the Gov­ern­ment.

In early 2012, an In­tel­li­gence Bureau ( IB) re­port said the unit had il­le­gally pur­chased two ‘ off- air in­ter­cep­tors’, por­ta­ble lap­top- sized gad­gets cost­ing over Rs 1.5 crore each, that could pluck mo­bile phone con­versa- tions. IB warned that the ma­chines had been de­ployed in the vicin­ity of South Block. This led to con­cerns that they were be­ing used with­out au­tho­ri­sa­tion to snoop on phone con­ver­sa­tions. In May 2012, TSD stopped func­tion­ing, as soon as Singh re­tired.

Gen­eral Singh de­nies the al­le­ga­tions and calls them ‘ gim­mickry’ linked to the forth­com­ing elec­tions. He has ac­cused arms lob­bies and bu­reau­crats within the min­istry of be­ing re­spon­si­ble for leaks of the re­port. TSD was for­mally dis­banded in De­cem­ber while Lt- Gen Bha­tia’s in­quiry, which found dis­crep­an­cies in its func­tion­ing, was still un­der­way. The in­quiry, how­ever, was only a Board of Of­fi­cers, which, un­like a mili-

The gen­eral’s lin­ger­ing grudge has now taken po­lit­i­cal over­tones. Aformer army com­man­der pre­dicts that Singh will be used as a tool to tar­get po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

tary Court of In­quiry ( CoI), has no le­gal stand­ing— one gen­eral says it was done to es­cape the em­bar­rass­ment of call­ing Gen­eral V. K. Singh to de­pose be­fore it.

Lt- Gen Bha­tia sub­mit­ted his find­ings to the Army chief Gen­eral Bikram Singh. Parts of the re­port ac­cessed by Head­lines To­day showed that be­tween Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber 2011, TSD had claimed money “to try en­rolling the se­ces­sion­ist chief in the prov­ince of a neigh­bour­ing coun­try” and “Rs 1.27 crore to pre­vent trans­porta­tion of weapons be­tween neigh­bour­ing coun­tries”. In early 2011, TSD claimed an un­spec­i­fied amount for car­ry­ing out “eight low- in­ten­sity bomb blasts in a neigh­bour­ing coun­try”.

TSD was linked to the cre­ation of Youth Em­pow­er­ment Ser­vices ( YES) Kash­mir, a pre­vi­ously un­heard- of NGO which pe­ti­tioned the J& K High Court al­leg­ing that the 2001 Janglat Mandi en­counter in Anant­nag where Gen­eral Bikram Singh, then a bri­gadier, was griev­ously in­jured, was fake. The unit had been used al­most ex­clu­sively, one army of­fi­cial says, as a “dirty tricks de-

part­ment” to en­sure that Gen­eral V. K. Singh set­tled the age row in his favour. The unit was to also pre­vent Gen­eral Bikram Singh from suc­ceed­ing as army chief by rak­ing up the age row. Both at­tempts failed but they came at a price.

In just two years, TSD had spent Rs 20 crore in se­cret ser­vice funds. This was nearly twice the amount the rest of the North­ern Com­mand, the Army’s largest com­mand, spent dur­ing the same pe­riod. More im­por­tantly, the unit could not ac­count for a Rs 8- crore spend, a de­fence min­istry of­fi­cial told IN­DIA TO­DAY. The covert op­er­a­tions of the unit were wrapped in a sheath of de­ni­a­bil­ity, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to prove sev­eral of its ac­tiv­i­ties, an of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the in­quiry said.

Lt- Gen Bha­tia’s in­quiry also con­firmed TSD de­stroyed the il­le­gal in­ter­cep­tors af­ter news­pa­per re­ports said th­ese were de­ployed in the Cap­i­tal. An MI team in­clud­ing its di­rec­tor gen­eral flew into J& K to su­per­vise the op­er­a­tion in March 2012. The ma­chines were bro­ken up and tossed into the fast- flow­ing Chenab river in Jammu.

In July 2012, two months af­ter Gen­eral Singh re­tired, Colonel Bak­shi ad­mit­ted him­self into the psy­chi­atric ward of the Army Base Hos­pi­tal in Delhi. It was an un­spec­tac­u­lar re­treat for an of­fi­cer who pub­licly boasted about the covert op­er­a­tions. Colonel Bak­shi al­leged ha­rass­ment by his se­nior of­fi­cers. His fears of per­se­cu­tion were be­lied. Gen­eral Bha­tia’s re­port, over 200 pages thick, sub­mit­ted to the Army head­quar- ters in March 2013, had al­ready turned into a po­lit­i­cal hot po­tato.

The Army, led by the play- safe Gen­eral Bikram Singh, swiftly trans­ferred this tick­ing bomb to the civil­ian bu­reau­cracy and po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship that month. The re­port flew across the ta­bles of then de­fence sec­re­tary Shashi Kant Sharma and fi­nally De­fence Min­is­ter A. K. Antony. The Army chief rec­om­mended a CBI in­quiry into the charges raised in the re­port. Antony sent the re­port to the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser and the Prime Min­is­ter. The re­port has been with the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice since then. The Gov­ern­ment has in­ex­pli­ca­bly cho­sen not to act on its find­ings even as Antony is con­va­lesc­ing at the Army’s R& R hos­pi­tal in Delhi af­ter a Septem­ber 15 surgery. “The re­port im­pinges on mat­ters of na­tional se­cu­rity and, as such, the Gov­ern­ment will take a de­ci­sion and fur­ther ac­tions af­ter a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of the re­port,” de­fence min­istry spokesper­son Si­tan­shu Kar said.

THE ECHOES IN KASH­MIR

The fire has singed not only the Army but also democ­racy in Jammu and Kash­mir. Omar is in­clined to let the Congress high com­mand in Delhi take a call on Ghu­lam Has­san Mir, who was in­ducted into the state cab­i­net in Jan­uary 2009 as an “as­so­ci­ate of the Congress party”, but the Chief Min­is­ter’s un­cle and the rul­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence Gen­eral Se­cre-

tary Mustafa Ka­mal is un­for­giv­ing. “He ( Mir) is a rogue and a well- known tout of the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment,” he says. Sig­nif­i­cantly, Ka­mal con­curs with the army in­quiry re­port about Mir col­lud­ing in at­tempts to top­ple the gov­ern­ment in 2010. On Septem­ber 13, 2010, se­cu­rity forces shot and killed seven peo­ple in a 3,000- strong crowd in Mir’s con­stituency, Tang­marg, protest­ing a re­ported des­e­cra­tion of the Qu­ran in the US. The fir­ing was or­dered af­ter the mob set fire to sev­eral gov­ern­ment build­ings and a Chris­tian mis­sion­ary school. Ka­mal claims, “Both the protest and the sub­se­quent shoot­ing was or­ches­trated by the Army and IB us­ing the good of­fices of Mir and his cronies.” He in­sists this was part of the Army’s ( and Gen­eral V. K. Singh’s) plan “to force the state gov­ern­ment to re­sign”. This was around the same time Mir is al­leged to have re­ceived Rs 1.19 crore from TSD.

Se­nior PDP lead­ers in the Val­ley also con­firmed that well ahead of the in­ci­dent in Tang­marg, Mir had sought the party’s sup­port as an al­ter­na­tive chief min­is­ter in the event of Omar step­ping down. “Yes we of­fered him sup­port. That is pre­cisely what any Op­po­si­tion party would do,” says a se­nior PDP man widely viewed as a party ide­o­logue.

Politi­cians like Ka­mal have al­ready aligned them­selves with the pro- azadi ( in­de­pen­dence) sep­a­ratists in in­sist­ing that “a large ma­jor­ity of the killings of civil­ians in Jammu & Kash­mir have been driven by In­dia’s rogue army”. On Septem­ber 24, Jammu Kash­mir Lib­er­a­tion Front chief Yasin Ma­lik pe­ti­tioned the state high court seek­ing a probe into the killing of 117 Kash­miris in the sum­mer of 2010.

FIRESTORM IN THE CAP­I­TAL

Even as the Gov­ern­ment dithers over the find­ings of the army re­port, Gen­eral V. K. Singh has been busy. He looked for a shield that would pro­tect him from the fall­out of the in­quiry re­port which led to him. He found it in the rough- and- tum­ble of pol­i­tics. The for­mer army chief first sur­faced at Anna Hazare’s rally in New Delhi in Novem­ber last year. Days later, he shared stage space with In­dian Na­tional Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chau­tala in Re­wari ( he clar­i­fied it was to op­pose a nu­clear power plant in the

Ghu­lam Has­san Mir has re­jected the Rs 1.19 crore pay- off charge and of­fered him­self for an “open, time- bound” in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

dis­trict). In Au­gust this year, V. K. Singh an­nounced plans for a na­tion- wide cam­paign with Hazare even as he met with lead­ers of the Aam Aadmi Party. “If the na­tion is to be strong, you need to move in step with your sol­diers,” he thun­dered be­fore thou­sands of ex- ser­vice­men at the Septem­ber 15 rally in Re­wari. When the gov­ern­ment hit back, BJP rushed to his de­fence. “What­ever V. K. Singh has said is cor­rect,” BJP Pres­i­dent Ra­j­nath Singh said on Septem­ber 21. “Why are they hold­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions one year af­ter his re­tire­ment and that too soon af­ter he shared the dais with Naren­dra Modi?”

Gen­eral V. K. Singh says TSD was cre­ated based on ca­pa­bil­i­ties listed in the ‘ rak­sha mantri’s op­er­a­tional di­rec­tives’ is­sued af­ter the Novem­ber 26, 2008 Mum­bai at­tack. “Ev­ery­time you talk of TSD, you are com­pro­mis­ing na­tional se­cu­rity,” he told Head­lines To­day, be­rat­ing the Gov­ern­ment for shut­ting the unit down. “Lot of things hap­pen­ing on our bor­ders to­day are hap­pen­ing be­cause a de­ci­sion was taken to close TSD.”

Gen­eral V. K. Singh’s war has left the Army aghast over the way se­cret op­er­a­tions are be­ing pub­licly dis­cussed and an­guished at the dam­age it has caused the of­fice of the chief. It has restarted a war they thought had ended when he stepped down. The gen­eral’s lin­ger­ing grudge has now taken po­lit­i­cal over­tones. A for­mer army com­man­der pre­dicts that the for­mer chief would be used as a tool to tar­get po­lit­i­cal par­ties. “The of­fice of the army chief is a pious in­sti­tu­tion,” he says, “VK doesn’t re­alise the dam­age he is do­ing to it.”

Gen­eral V. K. Singh, the only In­dian of­fi­cer to com­plete the US Army’s 61day Ranger course, once told his clos­est ad­vis­ers about the Ranger credo: “Read­ily will I dis­play the in­testi­nal for­ti­tude re­quired to fight on to the Ranger ob­jec­tive and com­plete the mis­sion, though I be the lone sur­vivor.” To­day Gen­eral Singh is de­ter­mined to sur­vive the war he is wag­ing with vengeance in the treach­er­ous ter­rain of pol­i­tics. If it goes on, the end can be noth­ing but MAD— mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion.

V. K. SINGH WITH NAREN­DRA MODI ATAN EX- SER­VICE­MEN’S

RALLY IN RE­WARI, HARYANA

CHIEF OF CON­TRO­VERSY

High drama has marked V. K. Singh’s tran­si­tion from army chief to po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist

AFP

SOL­DIERS DUR­ING AN AT­TACK BY MIL­I­TANTS ON AN ARMY CAMP AT ME­SAR IN JAMMU ON SEPTEM­BER 26

J& K MIN­IS­TER GHU­LAM HAS­SAN MIR,

AL­LEGED TO HAVE RE­CEIVED A PAY- OFF FROM THE ARMY DUR­ING

GENERALV. K. SINGH’S TEN­URE

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