In his first proper interview to a newspaper since details of an internal inquiry into his conduct as Army chief were published in The Indian Express last week, General V.K. Singh (retd.) admitted that a secret intelligence unit set up by him had paid Rs.1.19 crore to Jammu and Kashmir Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir and several other politicians in the state to carry out "welfare programmes."
Speaking to The Hindu, the former Army chief said: “[Mir] is one of the most nationalistic politicians in Kashmir today, whose work has been appreciated by other intelligence agencies too… He has organised youth programmes to direct the young men of Kashmir away from militancy, and those who say that he is trying to topple an elected State government do not know the reality,” he said, referring to the allegation that the Technical Services Division (TSD) he had set up as Army chief had sought to use Mir to destabilise the government of Omar Abdullah.
Admitting the money was paid but not for destabilising the J&K government, General Singh said the TSD had worked with politicians like Mir and some pro-India NGOs in Kashmir to blunt the “anti-India propaganda” of separatists from 2010. “It was all part of a larger game plan, and two major achievements of the TSD were the panchayat elections of 2011 and the sudden end to the stone-throwing agitation in Kashmir in 2010.”
He also said: “Not just Mir but many other politicians in J&K are paid by the Army and other intelligence agencies for nationalistic work aimed at maintaining peace in the State. I have served in Kashmir myself and am aware of it. I know which politicians have been paid during my tenures. It is not unusual.”
Role of NGO
The inquiry board has also concluded that money was paid to an NGO, the J&K Humanitarian Service Organisation (JKHSO), linked to Yes Kashmir, in filing a public interest litigation petition against Army chief Gen. Bikram Singh to stall his appointment to the top job. The origins of the petition were widely speculated during Gen. Singh’s face-off with the government over his date of birth in 2011-2012. Gen. Singh, while admitting that intelligence funds were given to some NGOs in the State, attacked the inquiry’s conclusion about the PIL petition. “Everyone in Kashmir, the police and other intelligence agencies know about the work of these NGOs and their role in keeping the people away from militant activities by organising social and sports programmes. Some of them were given money to conduct these activities and they were purely nation-building exercises.”
A key finding of the inquiry concerns the Rs. 8 crore spent on purchase of interception equipment from a Singapore-based company in November 2010, ostensibly for deployment with the J&K-based 15 Corps. The equipment was later destroyed on the orders of the DHMI, Lt. Gen. D.S. Thakur, following reports that it was being used illegally in Delhi to tap phones of Ministry of Defence officials. The General wondered how the board of officers conducting the inquiry arrived at this conclusion when the then DGMI had put on record a certificate saying that the TSD — which Gen.V.K. Singh described as a humint, or human intelligence, organisation and not a technical outfit — has never possessed or operated off-air interceptors. “The board chose to disregard this note although everyone knows that the TSD is not a technical outfit. The name was given only to keep its anonymity,” he said.
Independent army sources have confirmed to The Hindu that two such interceptors were indeed given to the 15 Corps but the controversial equipment was found unfit for use by the formation and returned. This, say the sources, was because of an inherent flaw in their functioning as they were not only receptors but also emitters that made them unsuitable for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir, according to a senior army officer.
In March last year, the army had accused Lt.Gen. Tejinder Singh, who retired as Director-General of the Defence Intelligence Agency (DGDI), and some other disgruntled MI officers, of spreading stories about a covert army unit spying on MoD officials with off-air interceptors. He filed a defamation case against the Gen. Singh and others in which the latter is currently on bail. Two of these interceptors were reported to have been secretly destroyed by being thrown into the river Chenab. Gen.V.K. Singh claimed that according to fresh information reaching him, “out of the ten-odd off-air interceptors purchased illegally by the DIA and objected to by the Technical Coordination Group under the National Security Advisor, two were declared to be unserviceable. They were then shown as destroyed and later sold to a Singapore- based company known to the then DGDI. Let someone inquire into that.”
When contacted, Lt. Gen. Tejinder Singh, the then DGDI, said: “If Gen.V.K. Singh has any such information with him, he should report the matter to the police or any other appropriate agency. I would like to point out that whenever any sensitive item is condemned as unserviceable in the army it is destroyed by hammers, so there is no question of selling it off again.”
According to last week’s report in The Indian Express, a DIG of the Jammu and Kashmir police informed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah that the TSD had allegedly tapped his and other telephones in 2011, during the standoff between the Army and the Omar Abdullah government over revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The General alleged that the entire report was fabricated with the DIG and a liaison unit (LU) of military intelligence working in tandem to discredit him.
He said the DIG in question was inimical to the army because “we have been pressing for action to be taken against him for his role in the March 2000 Pathribal fake encounter. Five of our men are being prosecuted for that incident but this DIG, who as the then SSP Anantnag provided the information and participated in the operation is scot-free.”
The Hindu contacted DIG Farooq Khan, who was SSP, Anantnag, in 2000 during the Pathribal encounter, for his response to Gen. V.K. Singh’s allegations. He said the five army men were held guilty by none other than the CBI, over which a police officer like him has no control. “As for the General’s accusations about an LU of the army giving us information, all I would like to say that it is too sensitive a matter for me to comment on. Let there be an inquiry into it to establish the truth.”