22 June 2017
Amsterdam
11:00 am, Local Time

Roland Bakker had been staring at his desktop screens for the whole night with just a few bathroom and coffee breaks. His work as a security analyst for one of the top network security firms in Europe and his own nature meant that he never could develop a healthy work life balance.  It was not uncommon for him to spend weeks cooped up in his apartment ignoring all but most vital phone calls and emails. He considered himself to be a kind of internet detective keeping poorly designed computer and communication networks safe from malicious people and more often than not, human stupidity. 

Most of his work was done solo and he enjoyed the focus that solitude provided him. But for this job, he had to take assistance from another person. Few months back, he had discovered some information about security flaws in the new network equipment which was being used in most of western world. He had seen a data dump leaked by an anonymous hacker on a dark web forum which was soon taken offline. But he had managed to download the dump and had spent 2 months labouriously analysing every bit of it.

 There was just enough information for him to discover that many telecom exchanges in Europe were transmitting user data to certain servers in a way they were not supposed to.  But his expertise had reached it’s limits and he needed help from a hardware expert who specialised in chip design. They had both worked for 6 weeks putting together puzzle pieces one by one and it seemed like all the hard work was finally bearing fruit.

He read the email that his hardware expert friend had sent and dialled his boss’s number. 

“Hey Roland, you finally called. I was getting worried about you.” Jasper said in his usual cheerful tone.

“Hello Jasper. Sure you were. I wish I had more time to ask what exactly had gotten you worried, but this is very important and I need your approval immediately.”

Jasper took a serious tone of voice, “Ofcourse, what is this about?”

Roland started talking even before Jasper had finished. “You know about the data leaks from telecom exchanges I was working on, right? The thing is, well as far as I’ve been able to discover that these are not random data leaks but very cleverly planned thefts. This is very serious.”

“All the data thefts are serious in our line of work Roland”, came the reply.

“Well, that’s true but I can guarantee you that this one is going to be as big as Edward Snowden incident. But it’s not the Americans this time but Chinese and you wouldn’t believe how celeverly they have done it. They have their malware in almost every single telecom exchange which has equipment from Xianji. Actually the malware is a very small chip, looks just like a normal diode and is embedded in almost every single Xianji router and switch I’ve managed to analyse. I had Merlin go over the chip and he was the one who actually discovered it.”

“Wait, wait. Jasper interjected. “What exactly have you discovered?”

“In case you didn’t know, a very large number of  telecom exchanges which handle voice and data traffic have Xianji hardware these days. This is not just limited to 2-3 countries, but atleast 40 that I know of. And Chinese are eavesdropping on all that data flowing through their equipment. I’ve sent you circuit level analysis of the chip done by Merlin and a sample of data which it transmits to a group of servers spread in different parts of the world. Chinese have the capability to steal almost any type of voice or computer networks data with this and they’re doing it right now.

And before you ask; No, Xianji is not gathering generic anonymous user or diagnostic data or downloading updates or any other benign stuff. These are data dumps from our data exchanges being stolen by Xianji. Well by Chinese government to be exact.”

  Jasper stayed quiet for a moment, then asked, “How sure are you about this? You know that information of this kind can disrupt international relations, right?”

“I’d not have called you if I was not sure.”Came the reply. 

“When can you send me a full report? I want to get it checked and published as soon as possible.”

“You’ll get it by tomorrow evening. Bye for now“ Roland replied and disconnected the call.

27 June 2017

BNN LIVE NEWS

Xijiang accused of spying on it’s users

In a potentially explosive development, one Amsterdam based web security firm has claimed that Xijiang, one of the biggest telecommunication companies in the world is running a massive global spying ring through it’s equipment. They are alleged to be stealing user data through it’s equipment which is being used in multiple telecom networks around the world. What makes it even more concerning is that the data is apparently being stolen to help Chinese government spy on foreign citizens.

Axone Infosec, the company which published the article has further claimed that the majority of XIjiang’s telecom equipment used in data and voice traffic  has a hardware trojan which captures data passing through it and sends it to unverified servers without the user’s knowledge. This trojan can also operate as a killswitch to cripple communication networks wherever they’re installed. In simple terms, it means that any one with access to this trojan can cripple vital telecom networks in a cyber attack. The article has detailed circuit diagrams of a very small chip which Axone claims has no other feasible purpose and yet is present on nearly two-thirds of Xijiang routers, switches and various other equipment they tested. 

Xijiang has released a brief press statement dismissing Axone’s claim as mere fiction and claimed that the company is open to any legal investigation of it’s equipment by certified professionals. The press release also claimed that absolutely no user data is either captured or stolen by any of it’s equipment for spying or any other nefarious purpose. But this statement has done little to check the fall of share prices of the company which have fallen by 21% since the report was published.

Some right wing political parties in multiple countries including France, Sweden and Germany have already called for a total ban on all Chinese companies from bidding in creation of new 5G and broadband networks in Europe. This demand is gathering more supporters with each passing day. BPTEL, biggest telecom operator in France with 7 million subscribers on it’s Xijiang equipment based voice and data networks has said that it’s investigating the allegations. 

Italian LHCom which was in talks with Xijiang for a new 5G network has suspended the process pending further investigations. 

US Federal Communications Commission has also announced the creation of a committee to investigate this issue. Atleast two of the major American telecom companies use Xijiang equipment in their networks.

As of now, we are not sure whether these allegations are true or not. But this incident has brought the issue of user privacy and corporate espionage in limelight once again.

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7 November 2016

Mob rampage over cattle theft in Meerut leaves 5 dead. – Dainik Bharat News

Five people died and twenty one were injured in an incident of mob violence in Meerut yesterday. The violence started after a mob of locals attacked a local police station to protest the arrest of three people under charges of cattle theft. Meanwhile, another mob attacked the house of person who had lodged the FIR about three cows stolen from his house. He was dragged out of his house by the mob and beaten to death in the street. All of his family members suffered serious injuries in during the assault too. His son and wife later died in hospital. Another mob at police station prevented the police from leaving the police station to help the besieged family and set fire to police station and five vehicles parked there. 

The two mobs went on a rampage later and set fire to three other houses, multiple vehicles and shops in the area. A video recorded by a resident shows some people who were part of the mob gathering in front of a local mosque and carrying out petrol bombs and sharp edged weapons from inside. Victims of the mob violence admitted in hospital alleged that the local maulvi (islamic cleric) made announcements on loudspeaker calling for an emergency gathering. They also alleged that the mob was shouting Islamic slogans during their arson and assault on people.

This part of Meerut is infamous for cattle theft by organised gangs since quite some time. Local chapter of Bharatiya Hindu Sangh (BHS) released a press statement asking for quick arrests of the perpetrators and provision of security for the local Hindus which are a minority in the area. Some members of BHS were arrested by the police when they tried to take out a protest march against the violence and alleged non-action of local police.

This is the third such incident of mob violence and rioting in last 2 months. On 3rd July, there was a similar incident in Hyderabad when a gathering to discuss the allegedly islamophobic content on Facebook turned violent leading to 6 deaths and multiple acts of arson. On 9th August, another mob had damaged a temple in Thane which was allegedly encroaching on a local graveyard. Elderly priest of the 160 years old temple was stabbed to death and all idols destroyed by the rampaging mob. 

Journalist Baba Naqli condemned the registration of FIR against the alleged cattle thieves calling it misuse of state machinery by militant Hindus against peaceful muslims just trying to earn a living. Noted Hindi film personality Bhara Dancekar posted a picture of her holding a poster which read, “BHS should be ashamed” and asked muslims should not be discriminated against due to allegations of a few militant organisations. Another Bollywood personality Khusraddin Khan claimed that she now feels unsafe in India because of hatred against muslims.

Same Day, New Delhi 

HM Sudarshan didn’t seem happy. A few sections including a few in his own party had already started calling for his resignation over a spate of riots in different parts of the country. He had summoned Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) Secretary Govidam Rao and Intelligence Bureau’s (IB) Deputy Director Ranjeet Shekhar to the multi department meet with NSA Dhumal,and DM Kamat being other participants. PM and EAM were not present as they were on a state visit to Saudi Arabia.  

Officials from IB and RAW had been summoned by the minister multiple times in last few months after each such incident. 

NSA Dhumal put up a few pictures on a screen. “This intelligence was collected by our assets in Pakistan few weeks back. An official from Deen Maryam Inc. gave USD 1,10,000 in cash from a hawala operator in May this year. We have a tap on this operator as his services are being used by a few people we monitor there. The money trail led us to Hong Kong registered shell company used by their military generals for collecting their cuts. Then shortly after, he deposited USD 1,05,000 in accounts of people related to or working with some NGOs, political parties and organisations like Islamic Students Federation (ISF), NGO Bediyan Tod, Socialist Party of India and their student wings in two universities in New Delhi.   

And as most of you may know already, every single riot or any other islam related controversy in India since last three years has footprints of one or more such organisations.We have reasons to believe that atleast 3 riots this year including the one last week Meerut were sponsored by Pakistanis. Some of the incidents were definitely due to latent islamism in India. But we should start putting more focus on the external instigators too.”

HM stared at the screen and then spoke, “Are we taking any action against these foreign agents and their collaborators here yet ?”

NSA Dhumal looked around the room not sure about whom the question was directed at.  Ranjeet Shekhar spoke first after some pause, “I can answer about local instigators. We have many of these people under surveillance already. But just transfer of money is not enough to make a strong case against them.  We have made some progress against a few of them by communication records, HUMINT and witnesses. It’s good enough to just arrest them, but we’ll need a bit more to get them in jail. “

Shekhar looked through his notes before resuming, “For example, we have this Sohail Ayub of ISF. Five lakh rupees were transferred to bank account of his cousin Tufail Ayub. Most of that money was then withdrawn in next 4-5 days. Then there is this Rajdweeb Banerjee of Today’s India who was very supportive of muslim mobs and published a lot of fake and provocative articles. 7.5 lakh were deposited in his wife Khannum Sharafa’s account.

We can get people like Tufail  and Khannum arrested or at least taken in for questioning right now. Some of them can be imprisoned too, but the charges will be comparatively lenient and hard to prove.  Even as we speak, our people are hard at work following the money trail and gathering more evidence. We need 12-15 days more to have enough evidence for strong chargesheets.  ” 

DM nodded in approval, “That’s good to hear, but you need to pickup the pace. We can’t give these traitors too much time.” He then looked at RAW’s Govindam Rao, “What about their financiers in Pakistan and elsewhere ?”

“We’ve managed to activate a few more assets in Pakistan over the last 2 years. We have a few planned missions that were shared for approval. As far as their agents in Nepal, Bangladesh and middle-east are concerned, we are keeping them under close watch. Some of them can be neutralised or arrested as soon as we get approval. You already know of our proa-active actions on the border.

Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is trying to use muslims in India to replicate what they’re doing in Kashmir. But we have some leverage against them too. Every group in Pakistan like Balochis, Shias, Pakhtoons, people of PoJK, Sindhis, Punjabis and many others have one or more problems with Pakstani state and each other.

Additionally, we can make most parts of Balochistan, Pak Occupied Kashmir and most of their border with Afghanistan very hot. We have a few high level assets in Afghan National Army (ANA) and their intelligence agency Khadamat-e Aetela’at-e Dawlati (KHAD) who hate Pakistanis with a passion. Only problem with Paki western sector is meddling by Americans and the leaks in Aghan agencies. Even Americans don’t trust them much.”

 Rao explained and stopped for a breather only to get another question by DM, “What about the economy part ?”

“We are putting some effort into the Pakistani economy. It’s not like whatever they are doing is helping them, but a bit of push from our side will help them slide down the gutter much faster. One major issue is that most of their profitable ventures are controlled by military and their allies in China, middle-east and even USA are not very cooperative when it comes to curtailing their illegal activities.

I am no economist myself, but whatever China is doing in Pakistan seems to be bankrupting Pakistanis. At the same time, I request that we get the approvals to do something about some of their strategic projects like ports, railways and roads, specially for CPEC projects. Pakistani public doesn’t realise this, but they are paying through their nose for something that’ll be useful for China only. It’ll be in our interests to see that some of Chinese projects are delayed or abandoned there. ”

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23 October 2016. Gujarat

The fishing boat’s engines were shutoff and it moved gently with the ocean waves. A Dornier Do 228 surveillance plane of Indian Coast Guard flew in circles a few hundred meters above it.  All six people on the boat were lined up on the deck watching the plane anxiously awaiting further instructions. The Dornier had noticed the suspicious looking boat far from usual fishing grounds and  ordered it to stop on radio.  

Mohsin Safi smoked a cigarette with his feet dangling past the bow of boat and waited for an update on his satellite phone. He was a passenger on the boat with Pakistani registration and crew who were not so calm and fidgeted nervously. But there were a lot of things keeping them from trying to make a run. One immediate concern was the threat of a heavy machine gun on Dornier which could have killed every single person on the small boat in a few bursts even if they tried hiding below the deck.

Then it was the matter of a significant payment and threat of beheading by Ashraf Azam if they failed to do what Safi asked them to do.

Amad Butt, owner of the boat looked at the radio every few minutes praying fervently. Safi looked at him, smiled and uttered something asking him to not worry. Although he didn’t have any contraband on his boat on this run, he was not sure about what his passenger was carrying. He was tempted to go and check the small bag that Safi had carried on to the boat, but memory of smiling face of Azam as he threatened to behead him stopped him.

He had been working as a runner for Azam for many years now, carrying all sorts of goods for him from Indian coast in Gujarat to Sindh in Pakistan. He had seen one execution done by Azam on the sea himself when the unfortunate victim had dumped some cargo in to the sea after being spooked by a Pakistani naval ship. Like most devout muslims, he believed that he’d get 72 virgins in heaven. But he didn’t want to get beheaded slowly like a halaled goat to get there.

There was a notification on Safi’s phone and he got up to stretch his limbs. He walked to Butt and offered him a cigarette. Butt could barely read, but he recognised the expensive Davidoff brand which he had carried on his boat for smuggling quite a few times. He moved his hand to pull out one cigarette, but Safi handed him the whole, still mostly full pack  and said, “We should be good to go in a few minutes. Get ready.”

Butt didn’t seem convinced but nodded. Few minutes later, Dornier gained altitude and went out of their sight towards Indian coastline. Butt and rest of his crew stared blankly at Shafi as if asking what now ?

Shafi grinned, “Ashraf bhai has long arms. We’re free to go.”

Butt could hardly believe that. He had almost started making plans about his time in an Indian jail and number of years before authorities from India and Pakistan would have enough numbers for a prisoner swap. One of his maternal cousins, a regular fisherman had spent 3 years in an Indian jail when he was caught fishing in Indian waters.  Butt was not the type of person to look a gift horse in the mouth. He ordered his crew to lift the anchor and start the engine. The small diesel boat was chugging on to it’s destination in a few minutes. 

Shafi stayed on deck, scanning the sea around them and occasionally checking his satellite phone. Soon he gave directions to Butt and they saw another boat standing still in the water, just like Azam had said. Both boats got close, Shafi got on to the other one and waved back. Butt heaved a sigh of relief on completing his part of the mission and turned back to go home. All that excitement was enough to make him look forward to reach back home and down a few drinks even with his quarrelsome wife staring daggers at him.

Shafi stood on the deck watching the other boat recede away in to a small speck. He kept watching till he saw and then heard a faint explosion in the distance. Butt’s boat sank within a minute with all hands on deck. Crew of his new boat didn’t even give a second glance to the spectacle or to their new passenger. 

26 October 2016, Udaipur

Kishan Jha stood up to shake hands with Mohsin Shafi. It had been eleven years since they had seen each other. “Are you going to keep this beard even now ?” He said as a way of greeting.

Shafi pointed to Jha’s belly, “I’ll shave it off as soon this disappears.”

Jha laughed, “That’s not going to happen my friend. Do I call you Mohsin Shafi or Sudarshan Tomar or do you want a completely new identity now that you’re back ?”

 “Nine years in Pakistan living under a false name was enough. It’ll be good to be addressed by my real name again.”

“Sudarshan Tomar it is then. Welcome back to your own country.” Jha nodded approvingly “There is still some work to do before we do anything else. Arvind Sahay will be here shortly for debriefing and details about the spy network you set up there. You’ll need to describe your missions from beginning till the end, don’t leave out any detail. “

Tomar worked in Rajasthan Police as an Assistant Sub-Inspector before he was deputed to Intelligence Bureau. From there, he was contacted by Kishan Jha and offered a job as a secret undercover agent in Pakistan. Tomar was first sent to Jamnagar and then to Indore for his undercover training. His training over 15 months taught advanced intelligence gathering techniques, covert communications, proficiency in various weapons and how to blend in as a muslim. He also learnt Urdu and Arabic and studied some Islamic theology and history.  After his training, he spent a year in muslim areas of western Uttar Pradesh and coastal Gujarat as an under cover agent honing his skills. 

Jha then sent him to Dubai, where he spent 5 months learning details about the city and it’s culture he’d need later. He was then given a new cover with some documents, money and detailed  instructions on what to do further. His new identity put him as only son of Pakistani nationals who had lived in Dubai for most of their adult lives and  passed away a few years back.  After their deaths, he had sold off most of the possessions and came back to Pakistan to try his luck. The passport and other identification papers provided to him were quite good and he had no problem reaching Karachi. 

Once there, he was contacted by a Sindhi named Abdul Noor who provided him a place to stay and showed him around the city. Noor by himself was quite unremarkable and he was owner of a stationery shop in the city.   He then introduced him to another local named Ashraf Azam who had deep links with Karachi’s underworld and law enforcement alike. Azam owned a number of legal, illegal and somewhere in between types of businesses all over the city. Shafi was given job of manager of a restaurant named Dynasty Cafe in an upscale area of Karachi. It had a dedicated clientele of a number of elites of the city which included businessmen, police, armed forces and politicians. It had quite a few dishes from Chinese and Sindhi  cuisines printed on the menu. But it made a lot more money selling smuggled liquor, hosting gambling parties and providing discreet meeting places to elites of Pakistani society.

A significant portion of the earnings were given to Karachi police and agents of various other security agencies which dropped in from time to time. Dynasty Cafe had powerful patrons who valued their privacy, so business was pretty good. 

Shafi spent his first four years in Pakistan establishing himself, cultivating resources and getting a feel of the place. To cement his cover, he married the divorced daughter of a shopkeeper next to the restaurant and bought a house.  His four years of work had brought him close to a lot of people of interest. He had links with smugglers who dabbled in transport of drugs, alcohol, gold, luxury items, weapons and various other items of interest to his patrons. He was arrested twice and put in lockup. Once when caught with contraband liquor in his car and once again when a senior police officer developed a dispute with Azam. He managed to get out both times without blowing his cover and the arrests and quick releases raised his street reputation. 

His handlers  assigned him to cultivate a few assets in Pakistani military which was a lot more dangerous but overall not that difficult job.  There are a lot of dedicated professionals in Pakistani military, but their main focus is to enrich themselves. Most of Pakistani military activities are related to land grabbing, business control, taking grafts and controlling politicians in one way or another. So getting a few Pakistani personnel from  Army and Navy on his payroll was not a very difficult task. Direct payments, help with visa or residence in a western country, few cases of liquor, introduction to a senior official, mediation for a mostly illegal business venture and even blackmailing tactics were used to set up a fairly robust spying ring. 

Safi kept a very low profile and almost never dealt directly with his sources. That’s how he managed to stay undetected for so long. During his nine years in Pakistan, he funneled arms and intelligence to Baloch separatists, collected enough intelligence about Pakistani naval assets and army bases in Karachi and nearby areas to fill up a whole library. His dirt sheet on the rich and elite of Pakistani polity and military was even more extensive which proved to be invaluable for RAW. His best work was his intelligence on Chinese and their links with Pakistani politicians and military. This intelligence reached a few important desks in RAW as well as a number of other places which made decisions about Indian foreign policy and defence.  

 In mid 2015, he  expressed his desire to go back home. There was a limit to which he could collect intelligence efficiently without getting caught. RAW realised that and sent three other agents which were established by Safi in his own place. Only thing he felt bad about was leaving the woman he married without any goodbye. But he had left a house and enough cash for her to last her life. It’d not be that bad for her to believe that her husband was killed during a smuggling trip to India.    

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22:40 Hours IST

Poonch, Jammu

A mortar shell landed meters away away from the forward post with a huge bang. A small cloud of dust and smoke marked the spot where it landed with a crater on ground as a more permanent mark. Then there were three more impacts in near vicinity. Indian soldiers huddled in the bunker could feel the rumbling earth through their boots. The bunker itself was made of 3 feet thick reinforced concrete and could take direct hits from heavier artillery, but not all bunkers were built like this. Most were made of stones reinforced with wooden beams, concrete and earth. They could withstand most small arms fire and even light mortar hits, but not direct hits of heavy mortars and artillery.

A number of other such posts in the sector were facing a similar barrage of 81 mm mortars and 155 mm artillery shells. Pakistanis were pissed after a small team of Indian soldiers had infiltrated in to Pak held territory and shot a Colonel straight through the chest via a long distance sniper shot. He was  looking over arrangements for a new staging camp for terrorists just 9 km from the fence and had brought an unusually large entourage which was caught on surveillance UAVs. The sniper team had exfiltrated successfully while the Pakis were still confused over what hit them. The massive artillery barrage had started minutes after the incident and had picked up intensity quickly.

At some distance from the bunker on hill, a Swati Weapons Locating Radar (WLR) collected data about trajectory of the mortars and artillery shells and fed it into the specialised computer which calculated position of the mortar tubes and artillery guns through it. Indian army had keenly felt the need for such a radar system during Kargil war of 1999 as the majority of Indian casualties during the conflict were due to artillery fire. Pakis had an American WLR system and thus had an edge over India in this field. Sale of such radars was blocked for India after 1999  nuclear tests but Americans sold 12 such radars to India in 2002. DRDO started the development of a local system with a budget a fraction of the imports (USD 20 crore vs INR 20 crore) and had a working prototype ready in 2004. Few such systems were deployed along border soon after for testing purposes and official inductions of around 30 such systems happened in 2017. 

Soldiers inside the reinforced bunkers were performing  ‘trial by fire’ of the new system on LoC in Poonch sector. The trajectory data from the passive electronically scanned array radar mounted on a truck some distance away was being transmitted wirelessly to the ruggedised and portable consoles which displayed data overlaid on a digital 3D map. This data was being transmitted to a heavy artillery battery few km away from border in real time. 

The artillery battery had just finished deploying it’s brand new Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) in the gun pits few kms behind the lines. It was developed in a joint project involving DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and private companies Bharat Forge Limited, Mahindra Defence Naval System, Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division. 

It could fire 155mm shells at targets 35 km away. With rocket assisted shells, the maximum possible range was 47 km. It’s sustained rate of fire was 1 shell per minute. A specially developed Multiple Round Simultaneous Impact (MRSI) system enabled it to fire 5 shells within 45 seconds in burst mode. 

Six such guns were assigned targets using data from Swati WLR. Their automatic gun alignment system and ballistic computer calculated optimum firing solution and adjusted elevation and traverse of the guns automatically. All six guns fired near simultaneously covering the whole area with smoke and dust as a barrage of 30 155 mm shells was fired within 60 seconds. Gunner crews rushed to fill up the magazines with new shells and propellant charges as soon as the barrage was finished. Two small UAVs flying over enemy positions beamed live video stream of shells wreaking havoc on enemy positions. This data was used to make adjustments to guns and another barrage was let loose 2 minutes later. One shell scored a hit on a small ammunition dump of 81 mm mortar shells lying in the open and the fireball rose high enough to be visible to Indians kms away. Immediate Battle damage assessment (BDA) by UAVs indicated destruction of atleast 5 artillery guns, 3 mortar pits and 60+ dead and injured. After firing 2 barrages, ATAGS used their own engines to move out and reach the waiting Field Artillery Tractors (trucks used to tow them). Even if the Pakis used their own WLRs to locate the position of guns, they’d get only empty ground with the guns safely out of their reach. 

Pakistani battalion had lost not only their CO, but a huge chunk of their firepower and combat personnel in just a few hours with nothing to show for it. 

Mindiyan, Kashmir

“How reliable is this information?” Colonel Sreejit was reasonably sceptical of claim of the Salim Abdullah, the local smuggler and occasional double agent. Even with electrified fence, ongoing sensor upgrades and frequent patrols, stopping infiltrations or exfiltrations by determined people across the rugged LoC was no easy task. There were too many high mountains, rivers, gorges, densely forested areas which made plugging all holes nearly impossible. 

Local smugglers like Abdullah used terrain and cleverly dug tunnels to cross the fence in different places all the time. After a few recent upgrades like motion sensors, thermal scanners and radars, the job was not as easy, but still possible for people willing to risk their lives for it. He was caught a few days back while trying to smuggle 2 kilos of heroin into India from his contact in Pakistan. He was interrogated by army before he was to be handed over to the police and he had claimed to have information about a  batch of 10-14 terrorists about to cross border in the sector. He wanted his freedom in exchange for coordinates of the location inside a village in PoK.

Major Vikrant Dhanoa had caught him and done most of the interrogations. He was not completely sure whether to trust him or not and had presented the information to his COl Sreejt, his CO. 

“He offered to guide us to the house where the terrorists will arrive tomorrow evening in exchange for his freedom. Apart from that, we don’t have any reason to trust him.”

“The location you’ve marked on the map is not an easy target. We can’t hope to hit it with artillery unless shells are fired near vertically, the mountain peaks provide a good cover.”

“To top that, there are a number of civilian houses nearby. Pakis have deliberately chosen this location to hide the jihadis. If we hit them with artillery, then we are villains. Our mortars can’t reach them either.” he added as an afterthought.

“What about our informers in the area ? Do we have any updates from them ?” 

“Yes, he has actually confirmed Abdullah’s claim. He had reported presence of some Pakistani military vehicles near the village last Saturday. This is just a temporary summer settlement for labourers who work in farms nearby. It’s mostly empty in winters, but will have a few people in houses nearby. There’s no motorable path, only a wooden bridge over the river which connects the settlement to the main road. Some bags were carried by porters from the vehicles in general direction of the village. He didn’t know exactly where and what was in them.”

Col Sreejith, stared intently at the map for a minute and marked a few spots. “There are only four feasible routes that these terrorists can use to infiltrate in to our sector.” 

“And atleast one tunnel that Abdullah used. That’s the only one that we know of, there could be more.”

“Did he say anything about more tunnels ?

“He claimed that’s the only one, but I am not trusting him on this.”

Col Sreejith scoffed, “Yup, can’t trust him on this. Digging a 300 m tunnel in this terrain is not an easy job either. I doubt it’d be usable after 2-3 rain showers or winter snow.”

“If we set up ambushes, we’ll need 6-7 platoons to cover all four routes. Pakis have a good line of sight on major part of atleast two routes. We’ll need to keep them distracted while we set up ambushes.”

“Abdullah said that the group will reach there tonight, right ?”

“Yes and they’ll probably stay there for a day or two before trying to cross over.”

“That’s good for us. Dhanoa, send a 2 man recon team to the coordinates and ask them to keep an eye on our guests. Make sure that they carry enough supplies to keep watch for a minimum of two days.”

“Just a recon team Sir ?” Maj Dhanoa asked with some confusion in his voice.

“Yes, they’ll confirm the presence of terrorists and their exact coordinates. I am calling HQ to ask whether we can use their new Herons for some fun and profit. Just in case, keep some teams ready for ambush too. We may need to use them if this doesn’t work.”

“Heron UAVs sir ?” Maj Dhanoa was quite familiar with the capabilities of Israeli UAV and was happy to have some extra help.

Col Sreejit had some good news for him, “Yes Dhanoa, Herons with brand new Helina under their wings.” he said and grinned like a schoolboy with keys to a candy shop.

18 Hours Later

A two man team in Handwara military HQ stared silently at the bank of screens in front of them. The Heron UAV under their control was beaming live visual and thermal images of the terrain below. The new upgrades to Israeli UAVs had installed lighter, yet more powerful optics and thermal scanners along with datalinks for better data throughput. Another more significant upgrade was the brand new modified HELINA (Air launched version of Nag anti-tank missile).  It was called HELINA as it was HELIcopter launched version of NAg  missile. No one had thought of a similar clever name for nearly similar UAV launched version yet, so they were calling it HELINA. Two of these missiles were attached to underwing pods, one on each wing. USA was already using such a system involving MQ-1 Predator drones and Hellfire missiles to great success just a few 100 kms to the west in Afghanistan.

The technicians noticed a laser designator mark on ground and reported it to their senior on phone. They had the permission to fire a few seconds later. One operator activated the missiles’ laser seeker and got both to lock on the lased target. He pulled the trigger and two HELINA missiles left their mounts and raced to the target. 

The two man recon team of Indian soldiers saw a blur of light drop near vertically on the mud house. There was a loud explosion and walls and roof of the single story house exploded outwards with debris flying everywhere. Few people from nearby houses came running out fearing for their lives in yet another artillery duel. They were greeted by sight of the destroyed house which was supposedly occupied by army personnel. A heavily bearded man stumbled out of the barely standing doorway with his clothing in tatters and coughing blood. He walked two steps and collapsed in a heap with his hands outstretched. The gory sight was enough to scare the onlookers to run away in any direction they saw fit.

Successful hit confirmed, the recon team packed up their laser designator and started the march back to their base across the border. Two missiles fired from kms above had killed 12 fanatical terrorists with pinpoint accuracy and no collateral damage. 

Col Sreejiit saw the live video feed in his own office and made a mental note of asking the HQ for 2-3 of such drones under his command.     

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17 September 2016

Xiamen, China

“So it has come to this.” Lu puffed on his cigarette and stared at the ceiling. “19 billion dollars as his share and what do we get ? We spend a lot of money from our own pockets, do all the heavy lifting and this is what we get. 3% equity for each one of us !”

Mo took  a small sip of his whiskey and stared back. Unlike the majority of his own countrymen, he had no worries about his own personal safety from the men sitting around him. He waited for a moment before answering,”This is what Mr Xij asked me to tell you sir. I am just an employee of the company and presently a messenger from him. Nothing more.”

“Don’t sell yourself short Mo. You are the financial brain behind the company. Without your knowledge, links and expertise, this project would have never even started. Hell, if you were not involved, most of us would never have even invested in the company. “ Lu answered bitterly.

“I am very grateful for the faith you put in me. But all of you know that my authority in the company is nothing compared to any of you present in this room. I take care of the finances, that’s it. Three of you here and Mr Xij control everything else.” Mo replied in an even tone.

Lu exhaled some smoke in the general direction of Mo and smiled. “That we do Mo, but tell me how does it help us ? My own personal investment was 140 million US Dollars. Pu here supplied 50 million and expertise that only 2 companies in the entire China have. Ru invested 80 million and made sure that none of Xianji’s competitors could win any contract that we bid on. All of us took losses for 4 years with an understanding that we will have a nice little pot of gold at the end of it.”

Mo nodded in a conciliatory manner but he felt a faint tinge of annoyance. Lu was already drunk and was repeating the same thing again and again. The short meeting which was supposed to last one hour had dragged on for two hours with no end in sight. He had traveled  in a plane for 5 hours just for this one meeting and would have to take another just after midnight.

“I’m sure you remember that I became a part of the company long after you four made the agreement. I can only tell you what Mr Xij asked me to. Why and how of this and most other decisions are not taken under my authority.”

“Right, right.” Ru exclaimed with an expression which hovered between a smile and a grimace. “So you mean to say that we should take it up with Mr Xij himself. You are just a glorified messenger. Is that right Mo ?”

Mo wondered if he should say something but just looked at Ru and nodded, “That’s more or less the gist of it Mr Ru.”

Lu crushed his cigarette on the floor and glared at him, “ Then we should not keep you here Mo. You’ve delivered your message. I suppose you have a flight to catch pretty soon.”

“That’s right Mr Lu, thank you. I’m leaving these documents here for your perusal. Please go through them and feel free to contact me at any time you wish. I’ll be more than happy to be of any assistance.” Mo placed a closed envelope each in front of other three people, bowed and walked out of the room.

Pu leafed through the papers given to him in silence while Mu lit up another cigarette. Ru gave a wry smile and said, “5 years, 100s of millions, hundreds of sleepless nights and this is what great Mr Xij has for it. 9% equity for three of us which we can’t even encash without his approval.” He smirked and poured himself another drink. 

“3 percent !” Lu exhaled angrily. His hands shook slightly which didn’t go unnoticed with Pu and Ru.

Pu who had mostly stayed quiet during the meeting, spoke in a tired voice, “Nothing much interesting in the papers. It’s more or less the same what Mo said.”

Lu picked up his envelope and threw it against the wall. “So Xij can screw us after all these years and we are left with this ! I don’t know about you two, but I’ll not take this lying down. Well, I do know about you two and neither of you is going to accept this.“ 

Ru took a deep swig of drink,leaned back on the chair and stayed quiet. Lu glanced at him and then started reading the papers again. Both were familiar with the angry outbursts of  First Class Lieutenant General Lu which usually went on for hours if someone interrupted his angry rants. 

“Just because he is the son of Chairman doesn’t mean that he can screw us over. Each one of put more at stake every single day  than that jerk can imagine and I’ll be dead before he can get away with this bullshit.” He glared at the other two men waiting for a response. Lu put down the papers, looked back at Lt Gen Lu evenly but stayed quiet. Ru stayed as he was, seemingly asleep but very aware of the tension in room. 

“Don’t you two have anything to say ?” Lu thundered angrily.

Ru just spoke without moving, “We do have a lot to say General, but exactly what we can say about this issue without getting ourselves in hot water ?” Xij is the only son of CCP Chairman. Words spoken by Mo were not from Xij but his father, CCP’s all powerful Chairman and President of China for life.”  

“President of China for life ! Was it only because of my support ?” Lu spat angrily. “All three of us supported him for this. Both of you financed his “campaign” and the constitutional amendment. Do not put this on me.”

Ru looked at Lu straight in the eyes, “Cool down General. I am not blaming you. All three of us had no idea that Xij and his father would betray us like this.

Pu spoke in his soft voice, “This is no time to discuss history and who did what. There is not much we can do legally. Taking Xij to courts will never work. Best we can do is to sell our share as soon as possible and limit our losses. “

“When Chairman Wix is involved, there’s no such thing as legal or illegal.”  Ru commented.

Lu thundered, “Don’t give me this crap. He is a greedy old bastard just like the three of us. He’d have never reached where he is without my support and if he thinks that he can get away by screwing me over, then he has made the biggest mistake of his life.”

Ru sighed and asked, “I always thought that two of you were good friends. Can’t you talk to him and clear this up ?”

Lu shook his head, “You do know that I was next in line for the post of CCP Chairman, right ? Wix came to me before he got you two on board and promised me this deal as compensation for my support for his lifetime Presidency amendment. It was me who suggested your names to him for this company. He knew from then what he was doing, how things will turn out and how he will treat us.

The work that Xianji did was not just for making us rich. Pu was brought in not for his 50 million but for his very specific expertise that PLA needed for spying. You were brought in even though you owned a competing company just to create an illusion of choice in the minds of our customers.” 

He glared at his almost finished cigarette and flicked it away. “Now do you see what Chairman Wix has done ? He has sole control over one of the biggest telecommunications companies which also doubles up as the biggest mass surveillance network in the world. Not only he has a few new billions in cash in his bank accounts but also the data of 100s of millions of people from all around the world and full control over the networks. If this is not unprecedented absolute power, then nothing else is. All this was supposed to be ours, not just his personal kingdom. If he thinks that he is going to be the dragon sitting on a mountain of treasure by himself, then I am going to be the dragon slayer of western fairy tales.

He paused to light another cigarette and continued, “Do you think that I’ll be happy with this puny payout after all this ? Are you two happy with just this ? This was not what was planned and I will make sure that Wix pays for his treachery.”

“How are we going to do that General ? After last year’s amendment, Wix is China. Anything you do against him will be viewed as treason against the state. Not to mention that Xijiang is just one of our many interests closely intertwined with Chairman Wix. Each one of us has 100s of millions invested in dozens of other projects with him. If we do anything rash, we might lose everything just when things are getting streamlined” Pu interjected.

“Mr Pu, you are a brilliant technocrat, but you still have to learn a few things left to learn about politics, statecraft and the inevitable backstabbing required to survive in this murky world.” Lu answered with a smirk. “We don’t fight this war at all. Our “enemy” will fight it for  us.”

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