It was the summer of 2003. A Jammu and Kashmir-based Military Intelligence (MI) officer was on a routine radio interception exercise, when he stumbled upon a vital piece of information.
It was a conversation a group of terrorists, who had infiltrated the state, was having with handlers in Pakistan on the future course of action. Basically, the men were awaiting instructions from their masters to strike.
The key input the young MI officer successfully intercepted through signal intelligence equipment led to what is today known as one of the largest counter-terrorism operations—Sarp Vinash—of the Indian Army. That two-week-long operation in the Hill Kaka area of Surankote led to the killing of 13 terrorists and capture of another two. There terrorists had been using caves as hideouts for four years.
With an exceptionally high success rate of close to 90 per cent, the MI continues to play a large role in countering insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-east.
The outfit was originally tasked with gathering tactical and field intelligence of military importance from neighbouring countries, but was soon drawn into domestic duties too, after the Indian Army embarked upon counter-insurgency operations. “The MI has a very limited role to play in the internal security framework when it comes to counter-terrorism operations. We have the mandate to work only in Jammu and Kashmir and the North-east where there are armed insurgents and Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is in force,” a senior MI officer of Major General rank said, pointing out the limitations.
Also, MI remains a small force compared to other civilian intelligence agencies. Headed by a Lieutenant General-rank officer, MI comprises 700 officers, including women, and another 3,000 soldiers as cadre. In comparison, RAW and IB together have over 25,000 personnel.