The military intelligence unit set up by former army chief General VK Singh was involved in sensitive covert operations in Pakistan and was even on the trail of 26/11 mastermind and Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed, officials associated with it have told HT.
“Our main task was to combat the rising trend of state-sponsored terrorism by the ISI and we had developed contacts across the Line of Control in a bid to infiltrate Hafiz Saeed’s inner circle,” an official who served with the controversial Technical Services Division (TSD) said.
Asked for an official response, an army spokesperson said, “The unit has been disbanded. Details of the unit, which was the subject matter of an inquiry, are only known to the Chief and a few senior officers. It is for the defence ministry now to initiate any further inquiries.”
The spook unit was set up after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks on a defence ministry directive asking for the creation of covert capability.
Army documents, perused by HT, reveal the senior-most officers signed off on the formation of this unit. File No A/106/TSD and 71018/ MI give details of approvals by the Director General Military Intelligence, vice-chief and chief of army staff.
The TSD — disbanded after allegations that it spied on defence ministry officials through off-the-air interceptors — was raised as a strategic force multiplier for preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”.
But it then got caught in an internecine battle between army chiefs. The TSD – which reported directly to Gen VK Singh — used secret service funds to initiate a PIL against current chief General Bikram Singh. As reported by HT in October 2012, secret funds were paid to an NGO to file the PIL, in a bid to stall Bikram Singh’s appointment as chief.
However, covert ops were the unit’s essential mandate and deniability was built into it and it reads, “The proposed organization (TSD) will enable the military intelligence directorate to provide a quick response to any act of state-sponsored terrorism with a high degree of deniability.”
Its task was to carry out special missions and “cover any tracks leading to the organisation”.
Though covert operations were formally shut down by IK Gujral when he was PM in 1997, sources reveal the TSD carried out several such operations within and outside the country — such as Op Rehbar 1, 2 and 3 (in Kashmir), Op Seven Sisters (Northeast) and Op Deep Strike (Pakistan).
Controversy is dogging the unit once again after disclosures in The Indian Express that secret service funds were also used to destabilize the Omar Abdullah government in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP has raised questions over the timing of the disclosures. While the defence ministry has had the inquiry report since March, the revelations have come soon after Singh shared the stage with the saffron party’s PM candidate Narendra Modi last Sunday.
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