IT’S AN 18-YEAR-OLD PLOT
ISI has persisted with its ‘K2’ plan to bring together Khalistani and Kashmiri terrorists
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.
PAKISTAN HAS KEPTKHALISTANI MILITANCY ON LIFE SUPPORTFOR THE PASTTWO DECADES.
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.
JARNAIL SINGH BHINDRANWALE
WITH HIS FOLLOWERS