New Delhi: Research and Analysis Wing officials had sustained contacts with arrested Jammu and Kashmir Police officer Davinder Singh in the course of an operation to infiltrate the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen terrorist group, three separate intelligence and police sources have told News18. The operation also involved contact with Irfan Shafi Mir, a Shopian-based lawyer arrested along with Singh, the sources said.
However, the sources said, Deputy Superintendent of Police Singh did not either inform or seek authorisation from his RAW contacts before allegedly accepting ₹120,000 from police constable-turned-terrorist Naveed Mushtaq to transport him to a safehouse in Jammu, and then on to Chandigarh.
The revelations come amidst allegations — made both by the Indian National Conference and a former top intelligence official — that the government is seeking to suppress key facts in the investigation into Singh’s conduct. The Congress has also claimed that Singh may have had a role in engineering last year’s terrorist attack in Pulwama, which led India and Pakistan to the edge of war.
National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, the sources said, had been briefed on the operation by RAW chief Samant Goel last week, following Singh’s arrest by the Jammu and Kashmir Police. In the meeting, a source familiar with the discussions said the NSA expressed concern over missteps made in the course of the operation.
“From what we know so far”, a senior official familiar with the investigation said, “there’s more than a little suggestion of incompetence in RAW’s handling of Davinder Singh, but nothing to suggest malign intent, or a crime”.
Initiated late in October, RAW’s effort to infiltrate the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, formed part of a wider effort in the intelligence community to cultivate new sources following the communications shutdown imposed in Jammu and Kashmir in August.
Long reliant on communications intelligence for information on terrorist groups, both RAW and the Intelligence Bureau found the suspension of mobile phone and internet services had the unintended consequence of leaving them blind. That, one senior intelligence official said, left the intelligence community dependent on information made available by the Jammu and Kashmir Police, which had a superior level of penetration into jihadist groups.
Though RAW has no formal role in intelligence gathering within Kashmir, one source familiar with the operation said it hoped to persuade Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operatives to travel to Pakistan and report on the group’s tactical preparations from there.
In addition to Mushtaq, the sources said, RAW and the Intelligence Bureau also identified other Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operatives with past ties to the police as likely recruits — among them, Adil Bashir, a former special police officer slain in a shootout with police in Shopian this week.
RAW’s Srinagar station, the sources said, reached out to Singh — who had served with the police’s counter-terrorist Special Operations Group from the mid-1990s to 2003 — for assistance with the operation. The son of an orchard-owning family from Ovarigund in Tral, Singh was known to be familiar with jihadist networks in southern Kashmir.
Following his removal from the SOG amidst — unproven — corruption allegations, Singh had unsuccessfully lobbied four successive Directors-General of Police for a counter-terrorism assignment, a senior Jammu and Kashmir Police official said. “Former Director-General of Police SP Vaid gave him a relatively cushy posting in Srinagar”, an official said, “but he was still bitter and frustrated with the police brass”.
In addition to Singh, the sources said, they also separately tapped Mir, the Shopian lawyer, with whom RAW had opened contact following the large-scale violence which swept Kashmir in 2016. “Mir was pretty well-known in the intelligence community as someone with good contacts in the Hizb,” an official said, “and also as someone willing to do, well, business”.
Late in 2019, the sources said, Singh succeeded in initiating contact between a Hizb-ul-Mujahideen operative and the RAW at a safehouse in Jammu. Though the meeting led nowhere, the sources said, it added value to Singh as an asset for RAW.
But, the official claimed, RAW failed to exercise adequate oversight over Singh — allowing him to use the opportunity for personal benefit. RAW, the source, was also unaware about Singh’s plans to personally drive with Mushtaq and Mir to Jammu — the journey during which a separate intelligence operation by the Jammu and Kashmir Police led to his arrest.
In the course of interrogation by the National Investigation Agency, an officer familiar with the investigation said Singh had denied accepting bribes from jihadists in the past, or contact with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.
Police sources in Jammu and Kashmir said they were content with the Union Government’s decision to hand the case over to the NIA, noting that Atul Goel — the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Singh’s arrest — worked for the central organisation until recently.
“Had the case not been handed over to the NIA,” one senior police official said, “critics would have been attacking the government for allowing the police to investigate itself”.
NIA officials said RAW’s contacts with Singh could raise legal issues, given that the external intelligence service had no charter to conduct intelligence operations with the country. The officer noted that “there is no legal framework in India even for legitimate intelligence operations, like recruiting criminals as informers or setting up front organisations for deception,” the officer noted. “In cases like these, this poses a real problem”.
“Frankly”, the officer added, “there is no dark conspiracy here”. “There might be dark humour”, he added, “but no dark conspiracy”.