Pak increases telecom towers in PoK to help terror groups: Officials

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The number of telecom towers along the Line of Control in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) has been increased in recent times with an aim to aid terrorists and their associates in infiltration activities, officials said here. Terror groups have been using highly encrypted YSMS services, a technology that merges smart-phones and radio sets for covert communication purposes, the officials said after a study of the pattern of infiltration bids and recent terror attacks, particularly in the south of the Pir Panjal range in the Jammu region.

With this technology, a handler of a terror outfit in PoK is connected with the infiltrating group and its reception party in the Jammu region on a telecom network used across the LoC. This is done to avoid detection by the army or the BSF, which guard the borders with Pakistan.

The project for boosting telecom signals has been completely handed over to the Special Communication Organization (SCO) led by Pakistani army officer Maj Gen Umar Ahmad Shah, believed to be formerly working with Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.

The strategic placement of telecom towers near the LoC and the international border, generally used for aiding terrorists and their associates in infiltration activities, stands in violation of Article 45 of the constitution of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a body under the United Nations.

Article 45 of the ITU’s constitution requires all 193-member countries to take the steps required to prevent the transmission or circulation of identification signals, “and to collaborate in locating and identifying stations under their jurisdiction transmitting such signals”.

The officials said, the Radiocommunication Bureau (BR) under the ITU has reiterated that all stations are “forbidden to carry out unnecessary transmissions, or the transmission of superfluous signals, or the transmission of false or misleading signals, or the transmission of signals without identification”.

The matter is being discussed at the ministerial level for taking it up at the international forum concerned, they said.

The new telecom towers are operating on the Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology and the encryption has been done by a Chinese firm mainly for catering to YSMS operations, the officials said.

This rouge telecom infrastructure supports infiltrating terrorists and their contacts in the Jammu and the Kashmir regions.

The deployment of CDMA technology along the LoC has been done with the aim to complicate monitoring efforts as the technology allows multiple signals on a single transmission channel, posing challenges in controlling illegal communications.

Past instances of use of such technology in 2019 and 2020 were thwarted by security agencies by breaking the encryption. The officials said the present attempt of terror groups aided by state actors of Pakistan would meet a similar fate.

Despite the towering presence of the SCO in PoK, including in Gilgit and Baltistan, telecom towers offer minimal advantages in the Kashmir Valley due to its elevated terrain. But, their signals extend into the Jammu plains, with traces even reaching sensitive places like the Kot Balwal jail area.

Conventional measures such as jammers and managed access systems have fallen short in deterring mobile-phone usage, prompting the development of advanced detection capabilities aimed at locating and neutralising active phones within defined areas.

The officials said new technology is likely to be tested nationwide, particularly in prisons, by security agencies to combat security threats effectively.

The smuggling of cell phones in prisons presents a significant public safety hazard, empowering criminals to orchestrate terror activities from within the confines of a prison, the officials said.

This comes after several security agencies indicated that telecom signals from PoK have been penetrating into Indian territories, affecting regions from Baramulla and Kupwara in Kashmir to Jammu, Kathua, Rajouri, and Poonch Districts in the Jammu division.

Of particular concern is the communication between terrorists on Indian soil and their handlers in Pakistan, facilitated by various technologies like LoRa, YSMS, Baidu and Thuraya Satellite Communication.

The utilisation of LoRa technology, known for its long-range capabilities, is being used by terror groups and their handlers so that the communication remains undetected between terrorists and overground workers (OGW). 

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