Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has readied a plan to expand coverage of its mobile coverage in Jammu and Kashmir that is not only designed to help Pakistan-trained terrorists infiltrating into the valley but also neutralise the impact of a future communication blockade imposed by the government, people familiar with the matter said.
The plan, according to a top security official in New Delhi, to tweak existing telecom towers and build new ones has been in the works for about a year. It was initially conceived to help terrorists infiltrating into Kashmir. But the Pakistani foreign ministry pushed hard to scale up the exercise to give it the ability to sabotage the communications blockade ordered in Kashmir after last year’s Aug 5 decision to end its special status. It wants Kashmiris to use Pakistani telecom services that cannot be blocked by Indian security forces.
New Delhi had last year pulled the plug on Jammu and Kashmir’s communication network before it went public with the decision to abrogate Article 370 to be able to ensure that trouble-makers do not spread rumours on and off social media. The restrictions have since then been lifted but local security officials do routinely snap phone links for some time in localities to prevent rumour mongering. If Pakistan is able to see its plan through, this would provide Kashmiris with an alternative to Indian phone companies.
A top national security planner told Hindustan Times that Pakistan’s Special Communications Organisation (SCO) – the state-run firm mandated to provide telecom services in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Gilgit-Baltistan region – had analysed signals from 38 sites along the Line of Control and the International Border with India. It has told the army that Pakistan could get a spillover effect via 28 existing phone towers. According to its analysis, the GSM antenna would need to be reoriented in 18 locations to achieve this objective though it would reduce the coverage on its side of the LoC.
The blueprint also includes setting up the new base transceiver station in Pak-occupied Kashmir as well as use of Wireless local loop phones in Indian territory.
“This plan has been accepted and is being implemented,” the senior official said.
Pakistan’s ISI is also pushing for increasing the signal strength of SCO mobile towers in PoK nearest to Indian sites such as in Cham opposite Baramulla, Leepa opposite Sopore, Upper Neelam Valley and Athmuqam opposite Kupwara and Hillan Meera opposite Srinagar to provide coverage across the LoC
A parallel exercise by the SCO, which is maintained by the Pak army, is looking at increasing transmission power of TV towers located at Lawat near Muzaffarabad, Upper Neelam and at Khuiratta to provide extended TV coverage in J&K.
These efforts are in continuation of the SCO’s previous attempts to install a small cellular system with Internet based backhaul that could cover Kashmir towns at some distance from the LoC, a counter-terror official said.