I have written a new book

Hindu Nationalist

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Moinuddin Sheikh is an arms dealer with clients all across the world. When a proposed peace pact between two nuclear-armed arch-rivals threatens his business, he makes it his mission to disrupt it by any means necessary.

Radha Mehra is the head of a top-secret government organization whose objective is to stop any terrorist attack on Indian soil. Their secret weapon – a supercomputer which can intercept, decode and analyse any electronic communication from anyone in the country.

When a message regarding Moinuddin’s plans is intercepted, Radha must race against the clock to try and stop him before he derails the Siachen Pact.
 

Hindu Nationalist

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Posting a sample of the book

Siachen Pact by Soumitra Kandpal

Prologue

1st Feb, 10:30 AM, Prime Minister’s Office, Islamabad, Pakistan

Abdul Sahad looked out of the window from this office. He was in deep thought. It had been 4 years since he was elected the Prime Minister. He had come on a platform of change. He had promised the people of Pakistan that he will turn around the country. Now with less than a year to go for the elections, his promises were sounding hollow. The people had started clamouring for change in the government. He knew that his popularity had taken a beating. Like any other politician across the world, he did not want to relinquish power once he got it. He had to do something dramatic to hold on to power.

Pakistan was a nation beset with number of problems. The economy was not in good shape. The growth rate was barely 5%. A few years ago, China had begun investment in CPEC or China Pakistan Economic Corridor. This idea had been sold to the people of the country as the utopian solution which will transform the economy. The promises had not been fulfilled and instead, Pakistan had slipped badly into debt.

Internationally also, Pakistan’s image was that of a pariah. China and Saudi Arabia were the only major economies which had a good relationship with Pakistan. Its relationship with its biggest neighbour India had been strained since the time of independence. The major bone of contention had been the Jammu & Kashmir region – a Muslim majority province in India, part of which Pakistan occupied during 1948-49 just after the partition of Indian state into India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan had fought four wars over Kashmir. Pakistan accused India of human rights violation in the province and not holding a referendum as promised by the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. India accused Pakistan of supporting an insurgency in the region which had already taken thousands of lives.

There had been a history of bad blood between the neighbours and the trust deficit had been at an all-time high following the failed dirty bomb attack on New Delhi last year. The attack had originated in Pakistan though the Pakistani government had no direct role in the attack. The Indian government had suspended all official talks with Pakistan following the attack.

Pakistan is a country where the military plays a very important role in the government functioning. It had 4 coups since independence. Even though it was nominally democratic, the first democratic transition to power in Pakistan was in the year 2013, 66 years after its independence in 1947.

Pakistan's foreign policy, especially with respect to India, had always been dictated by the military. The Prime Minister had a good working relationship with the military, so he had been given a freer hand to shape the policies. It also helped that one of the Prime Minister’s cousins was a Brigadier in the army.

The intercom on his desk buzzed. It was his secretary.

“Sir, Mohd. Irshad and Brigadier Ahmed Khan are here for the meeting.”

“OK, Send them in.”

Mohd. Irshad was the National Security Advisor. He had retired from the ISI after 23 years of service. Unlike many others, he was not a hawk when it came to relations with India. He was the one who had pushed for informal back-channel talks with India even though the official talks had been suspended.

Brigadier Ahmed Khan was the commander of Northern Light Infantry which was responsible for all the operations in the Kashmir region. It was an elite unit of the Pakistani Army. It was the tip of the spear for any operations against the arch-rivals India.

The Prime Minister looked at his National Security Advisor and said, "You know that the elections are less than a year away and my popularity is falling. I want to do something dramatic so that my popularity rises again. I want to leave a mark in the history of this country. I want to make a real difference to the future."

Mohd. Irshad asked, "What do you have in mind?"

"I want to take a small but significant step in solving the Kashmir problem."

"Sir, Kashmir is a problem which has been unsolved for generations. It will require more than just your will to solve this problem. And you know very well that the stakeholders, whether in Pakistan or India, do not want this problem to be solved. So, what do you have in mind?"

"I know I will not be able to fully solve the Kashmir problem. However, I can try to resolve one significant portion of the problem - the world's highest battlefield at Siachen Glacier. Every year hundreds of soldiers on both sides of the border die there without even a bullet being fired. I want to solve this problem by signing a Siachen Pact with the Government of India. This is the legacy I want to leave for this country. I want to end one of the most pointless wars between the two nuclear-armed nations. This may even get me an invitation to Oslo," said the Prime Minister's smiling at his little joke.

Mohd Irshad looked at him thoughtfully. Eventually he nodded, “I will see what I can do.”

The Prime Minister turned to Brigadier Khan, “I know you do not think that this is a great idea. But I think this is the way forward which will ensure peace and happiness for the citizens of Pakistan. It will also help relieve some of the burden from the military. I assure you that Pakistan will not give away anything unilaterally. And I will be keeping the army in the loop at all times.”

Brigadier Ahmed Khan said, “OK, I will support your endeavour. I look forward to a concrete proposal from your side.”
 

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Chapter 1 N.E.S.T.

03rd Feb, 11:00 AM, NEST Headquarters, Aravalli Forests, New Delhi

The Aravalli forests were a dense forest range on the border of Haryana and Delhi. These forests acted as the lungs of the national capital – thousands of acres of green cover with just a few villages in the forest. Around 3 years ago the government bought all the land in the villages. The villagers were given alternative land in Gurugram district of Haryana and were relocated there. They were told that the government was acquiring the land for a special project for ISRO.

Soon after that the trucks started rolling in - 50 acres of land, deep within the forest area, was cleared of all trees and vegetation. An unusual building was built in the area. It was just 2 storeys above the ground, but below the ground it had a depth of 50 meters. There was a large array of antennas on the roof of the building. Solar panels were also installed on the roof to power the compound.

The building was accessible from the main highway by a single lane road. It was surrounded by a 30-foot fence. The entire compound was guarded 24/7 by an elite security force. The existence of this compound was a closely guarded secret.

The construction of the compound had been completed just a month earlier. After that, the entire compound had been taken over by engineers from IIT Delhi. Specialized equipment was transported by trucks from the institute to the compound. All movement took place in the dead of the night to avoid any leaks. The dedicated team of engineers had spent the last month installing the equipment and testing its readiness.

Today no trucks were travelling on the road to the compound. Instead, a convoy of 3 cars made its way to the supersecret facility. In the cars were the Home Minister of India and a few select officials.

The convoy came to a halt in front of the building. The head of the engineering team from IIT Delhi greeted the convoy at the gate of the facility. A month after beginning the installation of equipment in the building and testing of all the systems, the project was ready for inauguration. The head of the engineering team guided the Home Minister and the other officials to a door where a ribbon had been tied for the inauguration.

The Home Minister of India cut the ribbon to inaugurate the headquarters of the National Electronic Surveillance Taskforce or NEST. He was flanked by the National Security Advisor, Ajit Kumar and the head of the taskforce, Radha Mehra. It was a private ceremony with no media coverage. The government did not want the existence of this taskforce to be made public.

The need for a specialised taskforce for electronic security had been felt by the government for a long time. The terrorists had started using electronic means of communication, like emails and phone calls to coordinate their activities hidden from the government’s eyes. The government wanted ways to intercept these messages and prevent terrorist activities in India. They had asked the engineers at IIT Delhi to build a system which would be able to intercept any electronic communication whether through emails, phone calls, social media or messaging apps. This system would then scan the data, looking for specific keywords. If such keywords were detected, the system would flag the communication and the authorities could monitor the activity of the individuals taking part in those communication.

The development of the system was accelerated after last years’ failed terrorist plot to detonate a dirty bomb in Delhi. The team led by Radha Mehra had managed to arrest the terrorist and neutralize the bomb before the catastrophe could happen. The Prime Minister had recognized Radha Mehra's efforts and appointed her as the head of NEST.

After two and a half years of development, NEST was now ready. At the heart of it was a supercomputer, developed by the engineers of IIT Delhi, with the top speed of 100 petaflops or 1017 Floating Point Operations Per Second. It would analyse the data from millions of emailers, phone calls, social media posts and messages. This data was collected by a network of 15 listening posts spread across the country.

The analysed data was shared with the police and intelligence agencies across the country. If any suspicious communication was detected, the NEST team or the intelligence agencies could get an order from a special court to keep the person under higher surveillance.

The NEST team reported directly to the Cabinet Committee on Security led by the Prime Minister of India. There was also an oversight committee comprising of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This committee ensured that the powers of NEST were not misused for political purposes.

After cutting the ribbon the Home Minister turned to the gathering and gave a short speech.

“Today we have come here to dedicate our latest line of defence, to the nation. The threat of terrorism is something which all the nations in the world face today. We have to be prepared at all time to neutralize these threats. One sure way to do that is to be able to detect the plans of the terrorists before they have a chance to carry them out. The terrorists are becoming more and more sophisticated in their planning and communication. They have increasingly used highly sophisticated encryption to hide what they are doing. The government has to be one step ahead of the terrorists. This facility does the job. I commend the engineers of IIT Delhi who have managed to make this system in such a short time. Due to national security reasons your contribution will not be hailed in front of the world but be assured that the nation is forever grateful to what you have done.

A lot of people may complain about the invasion of their Right to Privacy. The unfortunate reality is that in today’s world, the price of security is privacy. We don’t want to snoop into your conversations, but we must do it to keep everyone safe. Last year we had come within minutes of a dirty bomb attack on Delhi. It was a combination of luck and sheer dedication by the team of intelligence agencies and police which helped in preventing that tragedy. We don’t want a repeat of the same, so we must have this centre acting as our eyes and ears. I would like to reiterate that if you are not doing anything illegal you have nothing to fear.

I won’t take much more of your time. I now dedicate the National Electronic Surveillance Taskforce to the service of the nation.”

After the inauguration, Radha Mehra made her way to the top floor where her office was located. As she sat behind her desk, she reflected on the words of the Home Minister. She knew the importance of her role in preventing the next terrorist attack on India. Last years’ experience had taught her how a motivated terrorist could cause immense destruction. She was determined that no other terrorist attack would happen under her watch. She would do as much as possible to nip any terrorist activity in the bud and neutralize the terrorists. She was now the shield of the nation, an unseen guardian looking over the country.
 

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