Geopolitics

Pakistan boosts Telecommunication towers in POJK to aid terrorists
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Feb , 2024

Recently, reports of an increase in telecom Towers along the Line of Control in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir have been surfacing.

It is believed the increment in the number of towers along the LoC was initiated to perpetuate ISI’s efforts at aiding the Pakistani trained terrorists in their infiltration plans across the border into India.

The erecting of these strategically located towers along the LoC also violates the Article 45 of the constitution of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

According to the Indian officials the terror outfits are utilizing extremely encrypted YSMS services, LoRa (physical proprietary radio communication technique) system and use of Thuraya satellite phones. This kind of technology helps to combine smart-phones and radio sets for covert communication, which the terrorists have been using for their benefit in terms of infiltration activities and planned terror attacks in the South of Pir Panjal range in Jammu. It is understood that the use of this technology could prevent the detection of the communication signal which would be happening between the Pakistani handler in POJK and the outfit which is expected to follow orders.

The erecting of these strategically located towers along the LoC also violates the Article 45 of the constitution of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). According to the Article 45, all 193-member countries of the UN must take the appropriate measures to obstruct the transmission or circulation of identification signals, while collectively works to detect and identify the stations under their area of jurisdiction which may be responsible for transmitting such signals.

It is certain that the plans for the implementation of several Telecommunication towers in POJK were in the making in 2019 and they developed significantly ever since.

Under the former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, reports of a plan to increase Pakistan’s mobile communication coverage into Jammu and Kashmir emerged, with the same intent to drive terror activities in the region while reducing the impact of any communication blockade imposed by the Indian government. The idea was to enhance the existing telecom towers and build new ones for the desired purpose.

It is reported that the Pakistani foreign ministry rallied to accelerate the efforts in order to sabotage the communications blockade, which was ordered in Kashmir post Aug 5th 2019, when Article 370 was abrogated. It is evident that ISI,in order to bolster its communication reach into Kashmir, wanted local Kashmiris to have access to its telecom services which it thought could not be blocked by the Indian security forces. Because of this, it was expected that Pakistan would try to set alternative services to the Kashmiris.

The other expected move would beSCO’s efforts to increase transmission strength of TV towers located at Lawat near Muzaffarabad and Upper Neelam to extend the Pakistani television coverage in J&K.

At the time, Pakistan’s Special Communications Organisation (SCO) – the state-run firm was deputed to provide telecom services in POJK. There were already 38 sites fully prepared existing in POJK from where the signals would be transmitted, especially along the LoC and the International Border (IB) with India. It is apparent that the recent developments with regards to the extended telecom network by the Pakistanis was already in fruition since the Special status of Kashmir was revoked in 2019 by the Indian government.

It was certain by 2020 that a new transceiver station had also been constructed in POJK which was working in conjunction with wireless local loop phones in India. This was also verified by the Indian officials.

Since then, Pakistan has tried to increase the signal strength of SCO mobile towers in POJK to the closest Indian sites around Baramulla, Sopore, Upper Neelam Valley and Athmuqam around Kupwara and Hillan Meera near Srinagar to provide coverage across the LoC.

The other expected move would beSCO’s efforts to increase transmission strength of TV towers located at Lawat near Muzaffarabad and Upper Neelam to extend the Pakistani television coverage in J&K.

Not surprisingly, the sudden boost in the number of towers was at the time when India announced the start off its operation Sarvashakti. The operation intends to flush out the residual terrorists in the area in South of Pir Panjal range, following the success of Operation Sarpvinash.

According to sources, the entire project of incrementing telecom signals by SCO is under Maj Gen Umar Ahmad Shah, who is reported to have affiliations with ISI.

According to reports, the new telecom towers are operating on the Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, whose encryption has been done by a Chinese firm, which specializes in YSMS operations. The logic for using the CDMA system is to cause interference in the monitoring of the transmitted signals, as the system allows multiple signals in one transmission. This makes the task of monitoring cumbersome and complicated.

India will have to be prepared that despite the measures to curtail illegal signals from Pakistan, the Pakistani terror actors will persistently try to exploit vulnerabilities in whatever technologies are adopted by India.

This illegal Telecommunication system has been aiding the terrorists and their contacts in Kashmir.

Even though the SCO has amplified its efforts in POJK, the elevated topography of the Kashmir region has prevented broader reach by diffusing the Pakistan transmitted signal strength in the Valley, however the same could not be limited in the Jammu plain entirely.

Additional analysis has shown that the usual preventive measures of utilizing jammers and managed access systems have not been completely successful in stopping the cellular usage or locating and neutralising active phones within certain areas.

At the moment several factors and measures are being determined by the Indian government to prevent the telecom signal transmission from Pakistan. In 2019-2020, India was successful at thwarting the Pakistani efforts by shutting down the Telecommunication system in Kashmir. It is expected, the same may follow given Pakistan’s illegal activities around LoC.

India will have to be prepared that despite the measures to curtail illegal signals from Pakistan, the Pakistani terror actors will persistently try to exploit vulnerabilities in whatever technologies are adopted by India.

Telecommunication threats and cyber risk systems are all merging as one. Telecom operators are moving from being simply network companies to cloud service companies. With every bit of evolution in technology, the risk of some infiltration remains high.

To break down the communication links of terrorists with their handlers across the border, a call-Blocking System is expected to be installed in jails of J&K.

The telecommunication signals from POJK were noted to extend to the Kot-Bhalwal Central Jail of J&K. In 2023, several cellular phones and gadget were recovered from the inmates at the jail. Since then, the proposal to have call blocking system was proposed in all 14 jails of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kot-Bhalwal Central Jail is a highly fortified jail, which is known for housing high profile criminals, as well as terrorists, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief, Maulana Masood Azhar. Since it is one of high security central jails in Kashmir, the chances of the ISI transmitted signals reaching this designated area can bode a future security threat for India.

Pakistan has been consistently aligning with various terror groups or jihadist sympathizers to gain control of the perception warfare in Kashmir. Besides convincing the international states and actors, its approach is to convince the people of Kashmir into accepting its narrative on India. With additional telecom towers in POJK, it tends to facilitate its propaganda reach in the Indian territory while using these telecom towers to communicate with its sleeper cells or over-ground workers associated with its state sponsored terror groups. Given that the Pakistani plan remains straightforward, India will have to perpetually devise strategies to counter the devious ploy of the ill-fated neighbour.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Aparna Rawal

is an Independent Researcher and Analyst specialing in Af/Pak region and Counter Terrorism.

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