ISI has per­sisted with its ‘K2’ plan to bring to­gether Khal­is­tani and Kash­miri ter­ror­ists

India Today - - COVER STORY -

There is, in coun­tert­er­ror­ism, no room for com­pla­cency. Given South Asia’s frac­tious environment, any ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent be­yond a cer­tain scale has the po­ten­tial to un­leash forces that may be dif­fi­cult to con­tain. The dis­cov­ery of 5 kg of RDX and equip­ment to rig im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices in a car in Am­bala on Oc­to­ber 12, is, con­se­quently, cause for con­cern.

In­tel­li­gence re­lat­ing to these re­cov­er­ies in­di­cates a plot in­volv­ing the Bab­bar Khalsa In­ter­na­tional ( BKI) and the Lashkar-e-taiba ( LET), backed by Pak­istan’s In­ter Ser­vices In­tel­li­gence ( ISI), and such link­ages be­tween Pak­istan-based Khal­is­tani and Is­lamist ter­ror­ist group­ings are a fur­ther source of ap­pre­hen­sion. There is spec­u­la­tion that the ex­plo­sives were in­tended for strikes in Delhi and, com­ing soon af­ter the Delhi High Court bomb­ings, there has been a cer­tain stri­dency in the re­portage on the Am­bala re­cov­er­ies. This has not been di­min­ished by state­ments em­a­nat­ing from the Govern­ment.

There is a de­gree of over­re­ac­tion and pos­tur­ing here. As­sess­ments of the threat of the pos­si­ble re­vival of Khal­is­tani ter­ror­ism should be based on ob­jec­tive con­di­tions. First, it is im­por­tant to recog­nise that this is not an abrupt man­i­fes­ta­tion of some­thing new. Pak­istan has kept Khal­is­tani ter­ror­ism on life sup­port ever since the com­pre­hen­sive de­feat of the move­ment in Pun­jab. The Am­bala re­cov­er­ies are part of a sus­tained Pak­istani ef­fort to re­ac­ti­vate Khal­is­tani groups. In­deed, ev­i­dence of such ef­forts is lit­tered right across the 18 years of peace in the state. There have, for in- stance, been con­tin­u­ous re­cov­er­ies of weapons and ex­plo­sives. There were at least four in­stances in 2010, where sub­stan­tial quan­ti­ties of RDX were re­cov­ered in Pun­jab. Data com­piled by the In­sti­tute for Con­flict Man­age­ment, Delhi, con­firms the ar­rest of at least 134 ter­ror­ists over the past decade (2001-2011).

It is equally im­por­tant, how­ever, to recog­nise that the last ma­jor in­ci­dent of ter­ror­ism by the Khal­is­ta­nis was the Ludhiana bomb blast of Oc­to­ber 15, 2007, and even this was en­gi­neered by a com­bi­na­tion of BKI cadres and Hindu merce­nar­ies. The BKI is find­ing it dif­fi­cult to re­cruit ded­i­cated cadres in Pun­jab. Most of its op­er­a­tives are se­duced by purely mer­ce­nary mo­tives, in­clud­ing the prom­ise of re­set­tle­ment abroad.


Nor is there any­thing par­tic­u­larly novel in the BKI-LET com­bi­na­tion. In­deed, as the Khal­is­ta­nis came un­der near-ter­mi­nal pres­sure in the early 1990s, the ISI au­thored its ‘K2’ pro­gramme—a plot to bring to­gether Khal­is­tani and Kash­miri ter­ror­ists. The project was an ab­ject fail­ure, but the ISI has con­tin­ued its ef­forts.

The re­al­ity is, the Pun­jab Po­lice and in­tel­li­gence net­work have es­tab­lished ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­pac­i­ties of pen­e­tra­tion, with most move­ments of ter­ror­ist cadres and sym­pa­this­ers closely mon­i­tored. Po­lice ac­tion has also ed­u­cated the pub­lic about the hor­rors of ter­ror­ism. Cru­cially, de­spite the mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion in Pun­jab since 1993, no govern­ment or ma­jor po­lit­i­cal for­ma­tion has com­pro­mised with ter­ror­ism. The sole ex­cep­tion was the ef­fort by one national party to use some ex-ter­ror­ists in the gur­d­wara elec­tions this year, but the out­come for them was dis­as­trous.

There is, nev­er­the­less, a well funded and vir­u­lent pro­pa­ganda cam­paign on­go­ing, and this is of­ten mounted from the hu­man rights plat­form. Khal­is­tani groups con­tinue to en­joy free­dom abroad, and at­tempts to re­cap­ture gur­d­waras where they have lost in­flu­ence con­tinue. Ex­trem­ist Sikh pol­i­tics has, on oc­ca­sion, man­i­fested it­self in vi­o­lence abroad, the most re­cent case be­ing the mur­der of Sant Ra­manand by Khal­is­tan Zind­abad Force ac­tivists in Vi­enna in May 2009. The Pun­jab bor­der is also the scene of ram­pant smug­gling and the ISI con­tin­ues to link up crim­i­nals with the sur­viv­ing rump of Khal­is­ta­nis based in Pak­istan. There is an al­most con­tin­u­ous flow of in­tel­li­gence re­lat­ing to Khal­is­tani groups at­tempt­ing to ex­e­cute at­tacks in both Pun­jab and Delhi. These are the resid­ual risks that need to be man­aged.



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