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'No one can stop suicide bombers'

February 16, 2019 08:58 IST

'Local support is very important, without it the terror attack couldn't have taken place.'
'Explosives were secured, the IED was manufactured, the boy was brainwashed and converted into a suicide bomber... it takes a lot of planning and hard work.'

IMAGE: Security forces examine the debris after the suicide bomb attack on a Central Reserve Police Force bus in Lethpora in south Kashmir's Pulwama district, February 14, 2019. Photograph: Younis Khaliq/Reuters

At 3:15 pm, on the afternoon of Valentine's Day, Adil Ahmad Dar, a Class 12 student rammed a Mahindra Scorpio SUV loaded with around 100 kg of explosives into a bus carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel in Pulwama district, Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the attack -- which left 41 CRPF jawans dead, the highest toll in the Kashmir valley -- has angered the country.

Shesh Paul Vaid, a Jammu and Kashmir cadre Indian Police Service officer, served in different capacities in the most volatile areas of the Kashmir valley, from 1988.

In September 2018, as J&K director general of police, he was transferred to the general administration department as transport commissioner, believed to be a punishment posting following the kidnappings of relatives of security personnel in the valley and his stance for justice for the Kathua rape and murder victim.

The recipient of several gallantry awards, Vaid was tasked with containing the violence in the valley after Hizbul Mujahiddin terrorist Burhan Wani's killing in July 2016.

"So much of explosive has gone into the making of the IED. How come the local police and local intel did not know about the IED being manufactured? So definitely there has been a lapse," Vaid tells Rediff.com's Swarupa Dutt in an exclusive interview.

 

Your reactions to the carnage.

It is an extremely disturbing incident. A huge, huge, incident. The kind of casualties we have suffered... for the first time a human bomb has been used, that too a local boy.

Imagine how much he must have been brainwashed. Whether he was given drugs before the incident... I wonder.

Statements like 'sacrifices of the men won't go in vain' are heard each time there is a terror attack. But attacks do keep happening. How do we stop the attacks?

It doesn't matter which part of the world it happens, no one can stop suicide bombers.

If you are willing to die, nobody can stop you. We must have our boots on the ground.

So much of explosive has gone into the making of the IED. How come the local police and local intel did not know about the IED being manufactured? So definitely there has been a lapse.

A Scorpio SUV laden with such a huge amount of explosive was travelling on the highway without being detected, particularly when the highway is dominated by forces and nakabandis (road blocks).

A Road Opening Party was in place. Every few metres a person of the RoP is generally there, so why was this vehicle not checked? The post-blast investigations team should go into all these aspects.

In layman terms, what exactly is done when a road is sanitised?

The road was blocked for the last few days because of bad weather. The troop numbers had piled up because they returned from leave. They all gathered together in Jammu and formed a convoy.

Whenever a convoy movement takes place, we have a system of road sanitisation.

The in-depth areas (all areas leading to the main road) is dominated by the army, the main road, a few metres from the in-depth area is dominated by the CRPF.

They have mine sweepers, explosive detectors, they look in the culverts on the side of the roads for the presence of any IEDs. That part of sanitisation must have been done.

But I think nobody expected a vehicle-borne suicide bomber. I think this is the first time that such an incident has happened on a convoy.

IMAGE: The attack took place when a suicide bomber, from the Jaish-e-Mohammad, rammed an explosive-laden SUV into the bus carrying the CRPF personnel. Photograph: Younis Khaliq/Reuters

There are checkposts, nakabandis along the highway. How did the bomber carrying approximately 100 kilos of explosives slip through? How frequently are nakabandis carried out?

I am not in the police anymore so I don't know how frequently the checks are carried out, but clearly somebody has missed it.

How was it done in your time?

During the Amarnath Yatras, the CRPF DG and I travelled from each place, particularly in the congested areas of Anantnag going towards Pahalgam, and we conducted a detailed exercise. Fortunately, no such incident happened at the time.

But security forces are generally more vigilant during the Amarnath Yatra because it is a large congregation and they are soft targets, but the Pulwama incident is just troop movement. So vigilance will be comparatively less, wouldnt it?

But there has been some lapse in security. There is no doubt that for a terror incident of this scale to happen, there was a security lapse.

There were intel reports that there would be a Jaish-e-Mohammed attack. What is the standard operating procedure when there are intel reports?

Yes, I saw the report on Whatsapp; the inspector general of Kashmir (S P Pani) had issued the message to all the forces.

February 11 was the death anniversary of Maqbool Butt (the founder of the militant National Liberation Front. He was hanged in 1984 five days after Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre was murdered by Kashmiri separatists in the UK) and February 9 was the death anniversary of Afzal Guru (who was executed for his role in the December 13, 2001 Parliament attack).

In view of that, there was intelligence input and it was shared by the IG Kashmir and I think everybody should have been alert.

Something has gone amiss somewhere.

The SoP is you need to basically check vehicular movement, check suspects, high alert has to be maintained, nakabandis have to be put up.

Are intel reports always taken seriously.

It should be taken seriously.

But are they taken seriously?

See, for these people (security forces) it is a 24x7, 365 day job and they get used to these reports.

No one can remain alert continuously. Every human being has a limit, you know.

At precisely the time a security threat passes through a nakabandi, the person manning the naka, may have gone to answer nature's call. It happens, you know.

You can be alert for a few hours, you can't do it round-the-clock, it is not possible.

IMAGE: A day after the attack, security has been on high alert and forces have maintained a strict vigil. Home Minister Rajnath Singh said civilian movement will, from now onwards, be restricted when security convoys travel on Kashmir's roads and highways. Photograph: Umar Ganie for Rediff.com

The CRPF convoy of 78 buses was on the road for over 12 hours before the attack took place. Aren't they sitting ducks? Why couldn't they have been flown to Srinagar?

Yes, in fact, during my tenure I had requested that security forces be airlifted. It is less cumbersome, it will save time.

Sometimes it takes four days for them to reach their destination and it is not expensive when you consider the logistics involved in road travel.

And, of course, the threat of ambushes and attacks.

So, why aren't troops flown?

That is for the present establishment to answer.

During my time, there was violence in Budgam during the parliamentary elections. The troops reached late because they got stuck in highway blockades. We had discussed flying troops in then too.

What is your experience in dealing with Pakistan-sponsored terrorism that has local support? The army and the J&K police have tried to reach out to the youth. Why have efforts failed?

There is a lot of radicalisation in Kashmir, but it is not easy to convince someone to be a suicide bomber. It takes a lot of indoctrination.

I wouldn't say our efforts failed. The agitations which started as azaadi, have now taken a pan-Islamic flavour. Radical Islam and jihadists have taken over the 'freedom' struggle.

Would this terror attack have taken place without local support? The terrorist was from Gundibagh village in Pulwama.

Local support is very important, without it the terror attack couldn't have taken place.

Explosives were secured, the IED was manufactured, the boy was brainwashed and converted into a suicide bomber... it takes a lot of planning and hard work. It is not easy.

Finance Minster Arun Jaitley has said that Pakistan will be diplomatically isolated. 26/11 mastermind Muhammed Saeed roams free as does the Jaish chief... Does diplomacy really work?

Diplomacy should be done, it is being done, I think. Today, Pakistan is much more isolated than earlier.

The whole world recognises that terrorism emanates from its soil. Isolation also means withdrawal of financial support, it will help in the long run, there is no doubt.

Between diplomacy and a surgical strike, which way would you point?

I am only a police officer. Only a police officer, I can't answer this. It is for the government to decide.

Swarupa Dutt