PAKISTAN'S PLAN FOR KHALISTAN
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’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.
FISHING IN TROUBLED WATERS
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