Did a lost walkie-talkie save the day at Pathankot?

  • Chitleen K Sethi, HindustanTimes, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2016 11:29 IST
Security personnel inside the Pathankot Air Force base after the end of the military operation against milita Photo BY sameer sehgal Hindustan Times (Hindustan Times)

It seems a lost walkie-talkie or a handheld transceiver saved the Pathankot airbase from suffering large-scale damage.

The transmitter, carried by the four terrorists who kidnapped the SP to use his vehicle to reach Pathankot, was left by mistake in the SP’s car when they disembarked from the vehicle in the wee hours of January 1. The transmitter was to be used to contact the other team of two (or more) terrorists within the base to launch a coordinated attack. A similar transmitter has been recovered from near the area where the two terrorists were killed.

“The reason that the terrorists did not launch the attack even 24 hours after they arrived is because they could not contact the other team which was already inside the base or was to get in touch with them on arrival on the walkie-talkie,” said a senior Punjab intelligence officer. This day-long wait by the terrorists gave ample time to security agencies to secure the base and call in additional forces to fight the terrorists.

“During their conversation in the SP’s vehicle they kept saying that their mission would be known to all by the morning, which means that they had planned to strike the minute they landed inside the base. But they did not attack till they were engaged by the security forces the next morning. It could well be because they could not get in touch with the other team,” he added.

‘Non-significant device’

Interestingly, when SP Salwinder Singh’s car was recovered around 7 am and the walkie-talkie recovered, the military intelligence was informed by Punjab Police during their first meeting with them hours later. The military intelligence men apparently pooh-poohed the recovery saying it was a non-significant device which was available off-the-counter for use in marriages and for coordinating events.

The walkie-talkie was taken away to the police station where the vehicle was kept and since it went out of range it did not catch any sound. “However, had it been kept in range near the boundary wall, it could have caught the sounds of the other team of terrorists trying to get in touch with this team. But it did not occur to anyone to do that. We are all wiser after the event,” said the cop.

What corroborates, to some extent, this possibility is the frantic number of calls made by the Pakistani handlers of the team of four terrorists on Rajesh Verma’s mobile number through the day while the terrorists were inside the air base. Verma, the jeweller friend of the SP was with him when they were kidnapped and was left in the car to die when the terrorists abandoned the SP’s vehicle near the air force base.

The terrorists had used Verma’s number to talk to their handlers in Pakistan during the journey. The phone was in active use till the morning when at around 9.30 am terrorists informed their handlers that they had entered the base. The battery of the phone would have died down after that as all the calls made later could not get through. On interception since the SP’s vehicle was recovered, the phone showed no more activity. Intelligence agencies noted that the Pakistani handlers continued trying to get in touch with them till the evening on Rajesh’s number, probably trying to coordinate the two teams.

Punjab intelligence gives clean chit to Ikagar

A detailed inquiry by the Punjab intelligence into the possible role of taxi driver Ikagar Singh in “facilitating” the terrorists has found no incriminating evidence against him.

Ikagar was using one mobile phone, and which he was carrying that night, shows no prior contact with Pakistan. His phone was used to receive calls from Pakistan between 9.30 pm and 11.30 pm on December 31.

He lived at Bhagwal village, which is barely 1 km from the border, but his general movement of the past one year, tracked through the call detail records, did not show him frequenting the roads used by drug smugglers. Intelligence sleuths said there were three other phone numbers registered in his name, which were being used by his family. They too are clear, said a top intelligence officer.

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