On the 14th of February 2019 in Pulwama, a notified area council approximately 30 kilometers south of Srinagar, a radical and fundamentalist youth by the name of Adil Ahmed Dar rammed a blue coloured car laden with close to 200 kilograms of explosives into a bus that was part of a serpentine convoy ferrying 2,547 personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force from Jammu to Srinagar. The gargantuan explosion claimed the lives of 44 police personnel and marked the zenith of terrorism that had befallen and besmirched Jammu & Kashmir. The Indian Government led by Narendra Modi swiftly retaliated by launching telling air strikes at terrorist camps operating within the region of Balakot across the India border. Pulwama, however continues to remain a tragedy of monumental and incalculable proportions.
Best selling author and journalist Rahul Pandita, in a short albeit absorbing book, “The Lover Boy of Bahawalpur”, traces the investigations launched in the aftermath of the Pulwama disaster and the ingenious and out of the box thinking employed by the Indian Intelligence forces in nailing down many nefarious elements who directly or indirectly aided and abetted such a gruesome act. While the strings were being tactfully manipulated from the bowels of Pakistan, the puppets were dunderheads and naivetes brainwashed into thinking that only had mindless violence written all over.
Rakesh Balwal, an officer from the Manipur cadre of the Indian Police Service and the Jammu & Kashmir head of National Investigation Agency (NIA), struck gold when the entire investigation seemed to have reached a dead end with forensics revealing nothing of significance. Based on a pure hunch, Balwal expanded the territory of the search operations and by a stroke of sheer luck stumbled upon a shiny object that was half buried in mud slush. The find turned out to be a key with the number ‘1026’ engraved on it. Ahead of the key was found a piece of bone. The key turned out to be that of the Maruti Eeco car that had rammed into the convoy. A DNA profiling report on the tissue material around the bone found it to be a match with the DNA extracted from Dar’s blood sample.
Pandita also traces in brief the genesis and evolution of terror in the region of Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan first tried to foment restlessness in the valley many decades ago. Under an incursion codenamed “Operation Gibraltar”, Pakistan sent some Afghan rebels/mercenaries supported by Pakistani Army regulars into Kashmir to stir up violence. These men asked Mohammed Din Jagir, a resident of Tangmarg, to assist them get into the town and arrange Kashmiri clothing donning which would make them inconspicuous. But Jagir, instead informed the police, who ultimately managed to foil the insidious operation. Jagir was bestowed with the Padmashri. He also requested for a transistor as well as ‘intervention’ in getting married to the woman of his choice, both of which were facilitated by the Indian Government. However two decades hence, Jagir was gunned down by terrorists for having adopted this “pro-India” stance.
Rahul Pandita also brings to the fore a conundrum faced by the law enforcement authorities as well as intelligence agencies operating in the terror prone region. The same human pool is tapped into by both the militants as well as police officers for different purposes. While the terrorists actively look for ‘recruitment’, the intelligence agencies look for seeking credible information that would put paid to the hopes of fundamentalists. This dilemma at times poses a perfect opportunity for the more intrepid and daring to play mercenary. A classic example being that of the dwarfish ‘Merchant of Death’, Noor Mohammed Tantray from Tral, also known as Noor Trali. Before being gunned down during the course of a showdown with the cops, Tantray led the police forces down many a rabbit hole feeding wrong and inauthentic information on ‘terror activities’ while at the same time aiding the deadly Jaish-e-Mohammed terror outfit to wreak havoc.
The most riveting story in the book however deals with an ingenious carpenter. In the early 2000s, a senior Jaish commander and a most wanted terrorist Rana Tahir Nadeem, also known as Ghazi Baba (incidentally it was Rana who masterminded the Parliament attacks) was causing wanton mayhem in Kashmir. All attempts by security forces to smoke the nefarious element out were being repeatedly thwarted. In July 2003 however, the police received a dollop of good luck. Coinciding with then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s visit to Srinagar, the police arrested a suspicious looking young man wandering about. The cops were dumbstruck to find explosives strapped all over the man’s body. Further interrogation led the police to a carpenter, who specialised in constructing ‘safe houses’ and ‘hideouts’ for the terrorists. BSF Office Narendranath Dhar Dubey, C.P.Trivedi, Himanshu Gaur and Binuchandran along with five other policemen cordoned off a potential hideout. In the third floor of the house, there was a dressing table along with a mirror. Dubey remembered a word the carpenter had uttered earlier, “Sheesha” (glass). Instinctively, Dubey smashed the mirror with his rifle only to be greeted by a hail of bullets and a grenade from the other side. There was a room behind the mirror in which a few terrorists were hiding. In the encounter that ensured, Dubey was severely injured, But his troops were successful in neutralizing the terrorists one of whom happened to be Ghazi Baba.
The book also exposes the lethargy and inefficiency of various political parties in dealing effectively with terror. As Pandita illustrates, “in 2015, after the PDP came back to power with the BJP, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed lost no time to reward his Jamaat friends. The first thing he did was to ask the police to halt anti-militant operations. He also ordered the release of Massarat Alam, a radical Islamist who had been in jail since 2010. He also had plans to release Qasim Faktoo, the Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist and husband of separatist leader Asiya Andrabi. On 16 April 2015, soon after his release, Alam organized a big reception for his mentor, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who was returning from Delhi where he had shifted for the winter.”
“The Lover boy of Bahawalpur” is a compelling work that provides the reader a valuable insight into the events leading up to one of the most tragic events to have befallen India in contemporary times.