December 27, 2001
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Is there a conspiracy behind army depot fires?

Josy Joseph in New Delhi

The arrest of two Pakistanis last week revealed the possibility that the large number of ammunition depot fires in the last two years might not be accidental, as the army has been claiming all along.

The two were arrested while plotting to blast a field ammunition depot in Jodhpur, after detailed survey of the area, investigators claimed.

According to the Rajasthan police and central intelligence agencies, at least one of the Pakistanis managed to access computerised data of the crucial field ammunition depot.

"He was a regular visitor to the depot and was on the verge of carrying out a blast at the depot when he was nabbed," said an investigator.

"He had taken out several print outs from computer and other documents from the depot and sent across the border," he claimed.

The arrests throw open the possibility that the large of depot fire could probably be due to a conspiracy.

The conspiracy theory is buttressed by the fact that most of the fires have been in Rajasthan and Punjab, where Pakistan has historically been weak in war.

On December 12, Zeesham Alam (s/o Mohammed Alam Pathan, gali no 2, Mohalla Maneer Park, DC Road, Gujrawalan, Pakistan) was arrested in Jodhpur, while Naseer aka Sameer (s/o Ahmed Ali aka Mohammed Abdullah, house number 125, Gali No 11, Chack Kauria Wali, Multan, Pakistan) was arrested in Jaipur.

From Zeesham Alam they recovered several slips containing details of army deployment in Rajasthan, hand sketched maps of cantonment areas, micro cassettes, negatives of photographs of vital defence installations and explosives.

They also recovered an Indian passport (No B-5110510) dated May 3, 2001 in the name of Mohammed Alam issued in New Delhi.

From Naseer, the police recovered some handwritten slips containing details of deployment of army units and an Indian passport (no B-5006332) dated August 11, 2000 issued from New Delhi.

According to Nasseer's confessions accessed by, he was recruited by Major Nawazis Khan of Pakistan's military intelligence towards end of 1999.

He was given a three-month training in espionage in the Corps of Defence, Karachi and at the end of it given a Bangladeshi passport and an air ticket from Karachi to Mumbai, besides Rs 10,000.

Naseer arrived in Mumbai in May 2000, and later reached Delhi, where he managed to get an Indian passport, ration card and a driving licence in the assumed name of Sameer.

After staying in Delhi for about three months, he shifted to Jaipur.

According to investigators, since then he had been visiting cantonment areas in Alwar, Kota, Ahmedabad and other places in Rajasthan and Gujarat observing the deployment of defence forces and monitoring troop movement.

Investigators claimed that in June 2001, he had even visited Pakistan on the fake Indian passport for further briefing by his handlers.

As for Zeesham Alam, he was also recruited by the Pakistan military intelligence in Karachi and was trained in espionage before being sent to India with a Bangladesh passport in the name of Eshlan Ashfaque in February 2001.

He reached Mumbai and from there to Delhi where he met another Pakistani agent Mirza Mursolen, who was arrested in November this year for espionage in Pathankot.

Mursolen helped Zeesham Alam get an Indian passport in the name of Mohammed Alam.

Zeeshan Alam then shifted to Jodhpur and started working as a teacher in Rajasthan Public School, Kamla Nehru Nagar, Jodhpur.

He befriended some army personnel during his stay there as a teacher.

These army personnel, who were posted at the 19 Field Ammunition Depot and 12 Corps in Jodhpur, helped him access the computers of 19 Field Ammunition Depot, investigators claimed.

Investigators also claimed that Zeeshan had carried out detailed recce of the entire area including Banad railway station and found that ammunition were stored in the open.

"He had planned to set off a powerful IED near the station that would have started a fire which would have engulfed the entire 19 FAD," investigators told

What has shocked the investigators is the reluctance of army to cooperate with the investigation.

Initially, the army asked the police and intelligence agencies to liaison with a particular officer, who was found by the bewildered investigators to be already on long leave.

Later, the army refuted the statements given by Zeeshan Alam about his contacts inside 19 FAD, saying there was none by description given by him in their depot.

However, when further proof was produced the army 'budged', sources said.

After the FIR was filed, the investigators requested the army to permit them to interrogate Zeeshan Alam's contacts within the FAD.

On December 14, when the investigators reached the depot after informing army authorities, they found out that the concerned army personnel had been sent on leave from the day before.

"They have been extremely reluctant to allow us to do anything with the case, and once even showed us a false visitors' register," officials claimed.

"We are not claiming that all the depot fires are due to conspiracies, but there are indications that at least some of them might be due to sabotage," said a senior investigator.

He pointed out that it was on April 29, 2000 that a massive fire had engulfed the depot in Kanjoli lines, Bharatpur.

At least two civilians were killed and about 10,000 tonnes of ammunition were destroyed.

Exactly one year later on April 29, 2001 a fire broke out at Pathankot in Punjab, destroying over 427 tons of ammunition.

"We have no evidence, but with these two arrests we believe there could be much more than just meet the eye in the case of depot fires. Definitely more than the army excuse of elephant grass being the reason for the fire," sources claimed.

No official comment was available from the army. Senior army officials whom contacted claimed the army was cooperating and it 'was a local case'.

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