Central intelligence agencies were unaware that the phones belonging to former Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh and his jeweller friend Rajesh Verma were in the custody of the terrorists till they dialled a Pakistani number already under the surveillance of agencies here using one of these phones.
The Punjab police did not inform the Central agencies about the snatched mobile phones that were later used by the terrorists to make calls to their handlers in Pakistan. It could have averted the delay in planning the operation at the Pathankot Air Force base, a top government official told The Hindu .
This delay or lapse is being viewed seriously by the Central government. “It was only after a call from an Indian number was made on the number under surveillance that we realised the enormity of the situation. Had we known about the snatched phones, they could have been put under surveillance immediately and the location could have been known since they had already reached the air base, almost 24 hours before they struck,” said the official.
Though Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said that the Centre was informed around 7.30 a.m. on December 1 about the possible entry of terrorists to Gurdaspur, officials said that the Centre was informed only around noon as the Punjab police, for the first few crucial hours, refused to believe Mr. Singh’s version because of his “colourful background.”
“It is to be seen whether the delay was deliberate or not. It could also be the case that Salwinder Singh did not inform his counterparts about the snatched phones at all. All these aspects are being looked into. We had asked Punjab for a report, they are yet to get back to us,” said the official.
The terrorists had four phones with them, two belonging to Mr.Singh, one to Mr.Verma and a fourth belonging to taxi driver Ikagar Singh who was killed hours before the terrorists reached the air base. Only one phone, that of Mr.Verma, was used to make the calls to Pakistan.
A senior defence official said Mr.Singh, who was questioned for the second consecutive day by the NIA, was a likely complicit in smuggling activities rampant across the international border. There is a strong possibility that he helped the terrorists thinking they were smugglers, one official said. There may also have been insider help for breaching the base.“We are not satisfied with replies given by the former SP. He is changing his statements too often,” said a Home Ministry official.