The ISI is plot­ting to re­vive a dead dream. En­sconced in La­hore, two of Khal­is­tan move­ment’s most dreaded mil­i­tants are fan­ning the flames of a deep-seated anger.

India Today - - COVER STORY - By Asit Jolly

In­dia’s most wanted Khal­is­tan ter­ror­ist lives in plush mil­i­tarystyle quar­ters, ad­join­ing La­hore’s Al­lama Iqbal In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Wad­hawa Singh Bab­bar re­mains busy plot­ting car­nage against his home coun­try with his In­ter-ser­vices In­tel­li­gence ( ISI) hosts. The 65-year-old grey-bearded head of per­haps the dead­li­est Khal­is­tani ter­ror group, Bab­bar Khalsa In­ter­na­tional ( BKI), along with his ISI min­ders, re­mains en­gaged in try­ing to re­vive the long-de­feated Khal­is­tan move­ment in Pun­jab. On the walls sur­round­ing his op­er­a­tions cen­tre are de­tailed sec­tion maps not only of Pun­jab but also of ad­join­ing north In­dian states that are the BKI’S ex­tended bat­tle­field. Like chess pawns, multi-coloured pins are moved around on these maps, mark­ing po­ten­tial tar­gets.

With ISI- spon­sored mil­i­tant groups in com­par­a­tive dis­ar­ray in Kash­mir, Pak­istan’s long-stated am­bi­tion of “in­flict­ing death by a thou­sand cuts” on its larger neigh­bour is be­ing pur­sued through well-funded and equipped Khal­is­tani groups. Their deadly in­tent was ev­i­dent in the seizure on Oc­to­ber 12 of an RDX cargo in Am­bala, Haryana. Re­cent events in Pun­jab have re­ju­ve­nated mil­i­tant Sikh groups. In 2007, there were sec­tar­ian clashes be­tween Sikhs and fol­low­ers of the break­away Sacha Sauda sect. More re­cently, there was wide­spread pub­lic in­dig­na­tion over the re­jec­tion of the mercy pe­ti­ti­ton of Devin­der­pal Singh Bhullar. Bhullar faces a death sen­tence for killing nine per­sons in an at­tempt on former Youth Congress chief Manin­der­jeet Singh Bitta in 1993.

The rad­i­cal fringe is seek­ing three things. It wants ret­ri­bu­tion for Op­er­a­tion Blues­tar—the In­dian Army’s at­tack on Amritsar’s Golden Tem­ple in June 1984 to flush out ter­ror­ists hid­ing in­side

the holy shrine. It wants to avenge the mass killing of over 3,000 Sikhs fol­low­ing Indira Gandhi’s as­sas­si­na­tion four months later. It be­lieves that the only def­i­ni­tion of “jus­tice” is se­ces­sion from In­dia. “Sikhs can­not be com­pelled to live un­der alien rule,” says a former mil­i­tant, who is con­fi­dent of “dy­ing in Khal­is­tan.” This in­ter­view ( see

box) was given un­der con­di­tions of strict an­noymity.

In Pun­jab alone, 170 ter­ror­ists, in­clud­ing ‘sleep­ers’, have been ar­rested over the past four years lead­ing to the re­cov­ery of a varied arse­nal com­pris­ing a sub-ma­chine gun, 20 AK-47 as­sault ri­fles, nu­mer­ous small arms, hundreds of rounds of ar­mour-pierc­ing ord­nance and over 100 kg of as­sorted ex­plo­sives in­clud­ing RDX, PETN (pen­taery­thri­tol tetran­i­trate) and gelig­nite. Po­lice of­fi­cials say anaes­thetic ma­te­rial was also seized, sug­gest­ing that kid­nap­ping had also re­turned to the ter­ror­ist agenda.

The Oc­to­ber 12 ISI- backed Khal­is­tani of­fen­sive, in­tended to tar­get Delhi, was foiled by two Labrador snif­fer dogs, James and Chilli, who de­tected the 5.6 kg of RDX se­creted in­side the door of a me­tal­lic blue Indica out­side Am­bala can­ton­ment. “An im­pro- vised ex­plo­sive de­vice ( IED) packed with 5 kg of RDX would in­stantly kill scores of peo­ple in its im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings, be­sides crit­i­cally in­jur­ing dozens of oth­ers,” says Gopalji Mishra, who has in­ves­ti­gated over 500 blast sites as head of Pun­jab’s Foren­sic Sci­ence Lab­o­ra­tory and sub­se­quently as ad­viser to the state po­lice.

Thelethal con­sign­ment smug­gled from Pak­istan across the Jammu bor­der had moved un­chal­lenged to the gar­ri­son town 200 km north of the Cap­i­tal be­fore Delhi Po­lice’s Spe­cial Cell, alerted by sus­pi­cious mo­bile phone in­ter­cepts orig­i­nat­ing in Nepal, seized it. Briefed by some BKI ‘sleep­ers’ ac­tive in Pun­jab, two clean-shaven Sikh couri­ers, who were driv­ing the non­de­script car with the ex­plo­sives, van­ished with­out a trace.

Po­lice be­lieve the RDX, meant to be dis­trib­uted among ‘sleeper’ cadres in Delhi, was in­tended to cre­ate havoc in Delhi’s bazaars ahead of Di­wali sim­i­lar to the se­rial bomb­ings in the city six years ear­lier that killed 67 peo­ple and in­jured 224. On Oc­to­ber 23, Jag­tar Singh Tara, once a top BKI func­tionary and a prin­ci­pal per­pe­tra­tor in as­sas­si­nat­ing Pun­jab chief min­is­ter Beant Singh in 1995, claimed own­er­ship of the aborted ter­ror plot. In a state­ment printed on Khal­is­tan Tiger Force ( KTF) sta­tionery orig­i­nat­ing from Pak­istan, he stated that the RDX con­sign­ment was meant to tar­get Congress leader Sa­j­jan Ku­mar for his al­leged in­volve­ment in the 1984 ri­ots fol­low­ing Indira Gandhi’s as­sas­si­na­tion. “The KTF con­sid­ers it a duty to kill Sa­j­jan Ku­mar who is one of the big­gest en­e­mies of the Sikh quam (com­mu­nity),” Tara said while warn­ing po­lice against “hound­ing” in­no­cent Sikhs with no link to his plot. “Our next at­tempt (on Sa­j­jan Ku­mar) will fol­low very soon,” he warned.

Sources in the Delhi Po­lice say that there is no con­fir­ma­tion of Tara’s claim that the RDX was meant to tar­get Sa­j­jan Ku­mar. “It could be just a ruse used by

ISI to in­sti­gate BKI op­er­a­tives on the ground,” a se­nior of­fi­cial claimed.

Tara was one of four BKI op­er­a­tives who on a freez­ing Jan­uary 2004 night slid through a 104 ft-long tun­nel un­der three mas­sive perime­ter walls at Chandi­garh’s max­i­mum-se­cu­rity Bu­rail Jail in one of the most dra­matic jail­breaks in re­cent times. Top BKI

mem­bers Jag­tar Singh Hawara and Paramjit Bhe­ora, co-ac­cused in the Beant Singh killing, as well as Devi Singh, their laan­gri (cook), also es­caped from the jail in an episode rem­i­nis­cent of Sec­ond World War break­outs from Ger­man prison camps. Though Hawara and Bhe­ora were re­cap­tured and con­victed—the former was awarded a death sen­tence and the lat­ter life im­pris­on­ment—tara, the least im­por­tant mem­ber of the quar­tet, es­tab­lished con­tact with the ISI. Sub­se­quently he crossed over to Pak­istan. Seven years on, he has resur­faced as the omi­nous face of a new Khal­is­tani of­fen­sive that has In­dia’s se- cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment wor­ried. Tara was a Delhi taxi driver in 1984 who of­fered his home as a safe house for Khal­is­tani ter­ror­ists fol­low­ing the anti-sikh car­nage. Tara parted ways with Wad­hawa Singh’s BKI in March 2011 to launch the Khal­is­tan Tiger Force with ISI as­sis­tance.


A care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of re­cent events re­veals that the ISI has never en­tirely aban­doned the armed Sikh sep­a­ratist move­ment de­spite its su­pres­sion in the mid-1990s with some ex­cel­lent and ruth­less po­lice work, led pre­domi- nantly by Pun­jab’s then di­rec­tor gen­eral of po­lice ( DGP) Kan­war Pal Singh Gill and aided by the army. ISI con­tin­ued to pro­vide pa­tron­age to Wad­hawa Singh, Khal­is­tani Com­mando Force ( KCF) chief Paramjit Pan­jwar as well as oth­ers such as Ran­jeet Neeta of the Khal­is­tan Zind­abad Force and Dal Khalsa pa­tron Ga­jin­der Hi­jacker. All of them have been liv­ing in ISI- pro­vided com­fort in La­hore for over two decades. Named by In­dia in lists of ter­ror­ists rou­tinely handed over to the Pak­istan Govern­ment over many years, these Sikh sep­a­ratists re­main ac­tive, forg­ing links with var­i­ous Is­lamist groups and Khal­is­tani

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