To counter a covert aggressor

Published : Feb 05, 2000 00:00 IST

For reasons of strategic interests the U.S. may not declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism, but that should not deter India from pursuing its dossier against the covert aggressor.


THERE has been disappointment in India over the fact that not only the U.S. State Department but also South Asia experts such as Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre, Washington, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, Washington, and Teresita Schaff er of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, have reacted negatively to India's renewal of its complaint against Pakistan as a state-sponsor of international terrorism. The fresh Indian move came after the recent hijacking of Ind ian Airlines Flight IC 814 by members of the Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The hijackers demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, secretary-general of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and close associate of Osama bin Laden, who was involved in the murder of U.S. Marines in Somalia, and two others.

Questions have been raised as to how the Government of India could establish that they were Pakistani nationals; how it could secure their photographs so quickly; what evidence it has to back its allegation of the involvement of the Inter Services Intell igence (ISI) of Pakistan in the incident; and, if this was so, how it would explain the action of the Pakistani authorities in refusing the plane permission to land at Lahore at the first instance.

The Government established the identity of the hijackers after the interrogation of some Pakistani members of the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen in Mumbai, who were in telephonic contact with the hijackers in Kandahar, and secured their photographs from the files of the airport immigration authorities and the police in Mumbai. Every Pakistani national entering India is required to submit a copy of his or her visa application with his or her photograph to the immigration officials on arrival at the airport and ano ther to the police authorities of the area in which he or she would be staying. These applications carry the seal of the Indian diplomatic mission issuing the visa.

Once the identities are established, securing the photographs is a five-minute job. The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen members arrested in Mumbai said that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals and that their leader was Ibrahim Azhar, the younger brother of M aulana Masood Azhar.

The Government's statement that Ibrahim was the leader has been independently corroborated by two Pakistani journalists of the monthly Herald of Karachi (January) and Asiaweek (January 14) of Hong Kong.

While the Herald story was based on an interview of Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakkil to the British Broadcasting Corporation's Pushtoo service, the Asiaweek correspondent was one of only three foreign journalists present in Kandahar during the drama. The Asiaweek correspondent has reported that in his presence the leader of the hijackers identified himself as the brother of Masood Azhar to the United Nations representative, who had gone to Kandahar from Islamabad.

In law, if a material fact of a statement by the prosecution is proved to be correct through independent corroboration, the other material facts of the statement are also presumed to be correct unless proved otherwise by the defence. From this, the indep endent corroboration of the identity of the leader by Pakistani witnesses strengthens the credibility of the Indian evidence that all the hijackers were Pakistani nationals.

The fact that all of them belonged to the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has also been corroborated by Herald, which wrote: "In the first few days of the hijacking, the HUM (Harkat-ul-Mujahideen) tried to distance itself from the events in Kandahar, but onc e the hijacking saga was over, senior members of the HUM in Muzaffarabad were willing to admit that all hijackers belonged to their group."

IN its annual reports on Patterns of Global Terrorism, the Counter-Terrorism Division of the U.S. State Department has been telling Congress every year that the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is Pakistan-based, that it has been involved in acts of terrorism in India and other countries, that it had signed the fatwa issued by Osama bin Laden in February 1998 calling for attacks on U.S. and Israeli nationals and that it was suspected in the kidnapping, under the name of Al Faran, of five Western touri sts in Kashmir in 1995. The U.S. also suspected that it had a hand in the murder of some U.S. nationals in Karachi during the second tenure of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister.

The State Department had on October 1, 1997 listed the group among the 30 international terrorist organisations, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. At that time it was known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar. Subsequently it changed its name to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The declaration was renewed in October 1999.

Despite this, the Pakistan Government has neither banned the organisation nor controlled its activities. The court-martial of some Pakistani Army officers arrested in 1995 for plotting to overthrow the government of Benazir Bhutto revealed the nexus betw een the organisation and the Army. In fact, one of the arrested officers was found travelling with Saifullah Akhtar, the patron of the organisation, at the time of his arrest. Herald (January 1996) reported that while the Army court-martialled its officers, it decided, mysteriously, not to prosecute Akhtar.

If an organisation raised, trained, armed and motivated by the ISI and the Pakistan Army commits an act of hijacking and if the Pakistan Army avoids the arrest of the hijackers, just as the Zia-ul-Haq regime avoided the arrest and prosecution of the Dal Khalsa hijackers of 1981 until the U.S. warned it of the consequences of its inaction in 1984, is there not a reasonable presumption under law that the hijacking was sponsored by the Pakistani official agencies?

According to preliminary indications, the hijacking was sponsored by Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmad, former Commanding Officer of the 10 Corps based in Rawalpindi, who played a key role in transporting the supporters of bin Laden to Kargil in February last year and in the overthrow of Nawaz Sharif on October 12, 1999. He was subsequently appointed as the ISI's Director-General by General Pervez Musharraf, the Chief Executive.

It is said that Lt. Gen. Ahmad had the hijacking carried out through Brig. Salahuddin Satti, who, as the head of the 111 Brigade, captured the television and radio stations on October 12, arrested Sharif and took him to an Army guest house at Chaklala. B rig. Satti, who had served with the Special Services Group (SSG) in Siachen, had also functioned as the Chief of Staff of the 10 Corps and as Brigade Major under Musharraf. He was made Major-General on December 7, 1999.

It is also said that for a week after their entry into Pakistan from Kandahar, the hijackers were kept in the same guest house in which Sharif was kept before he was shifted to Karachi. Their present whereabouts are not known.

Well-informed sources claim that the ISI's instruction to the hijackers was to take the aircraft directly to Kandahar. But the hijackers got confused and asked the pilot to go to Lahore.

This caused apprehension in Pakistan, as it was felt that permission to land in Lahore might expose the ISI involvement as did the permission to some Sikh hijackers in 1984. They, therefore, asked Lahore airport not to let the aircraft land. But when the plane flew in from Amritsar, they were forced to allow it landing facility as it had no fuel left for the journey to Kandahar or Kabul.

COHEN compares the activities of the Pakistan-sponsored terrorists to the alleged activities of the LTTE from Indian soil, but he forgets that hundreds of Indian soldiers died trying to help Sri Lanka end the LTTE's terrorist acts and that Rajiv Gandhi p aid with his life for assisting Sri Lanka to root out LTTE terrorism.

Lecture notes recovered from the ISI-trained Sikh, Kashmiri and other terrorists contained instructions on subjects such as preparation of hit-lists, how to carry out assassinations, how to hijack an aircraft, the importance of avoiding Air-India planes lest foreign concern should be aroused, the importance of eliminating Hindus from Jammu and Buddhists from Ladakh and how to destroy the off-shore oil installations in Bombay High. It was owing to this that the Government decided in the early 1990s to se nsitise world public opinion to state-sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan and to press the U.S. to declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism under its laws.

Interestingly, this idea emanated not from Indian experts, but from some West European experts who were convinced from their own independent evidence of the role of Pakistan. The West European expert advised that the matter be taken up directly with the State Department instead of through U.S. experts.

The first dossier prepared by India was rejected by the State Department under the pretext that much of the evidence was based on interrogation reports, which it could not accept in view of the alleged use of torture during interrogation.

In 1992, Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Canada, who figured in the wanted list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was arrested by the Gujarat Police after he entered India from Pakistan, where h e had been living since 1985. West European experts advised their Indian counterparts to invite U.S. experts to interrogate him as they felt that the State Department would find it difficult to dismiss their interrogation reports as based on torture.

The State Department advised the U.S. experts not to accept the Indian invitation. The U.S. decided not to pursue the case against Lal Singh, apparently fearing that if its experts reported that India's dossier against Pakistan was correct, it would be d ifficult to avoid action against Pakistan.

THE only occasion when the U.S. almost took a decision to act against Pakistan was in the second half of 1992. The first organised group of Israeli tourists had arrived in Kashmir. The Indian media covered its visit prominently. The ISI informed the Kash miri terrorists that these tourists were actually Israeli counter-terrorism experts who were coming to Srinagar to assist the Indian security forces. It, therefore, asked them to attack the Israelis. One Israeli was killed and another kidnapped. A large number of Jewish journalists from the U.S. and Israel rushed to India to cover the event and, although India had not yet established diplomatic relations with Israel, senior Israeli officials also visited the scene. This resulted in wide publicity in the world media to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in India and to the reluctance of Washington to act against Pakistan.

The U.S. was in the middle of the presidential and congressional election campaign. Under pressure from voters, who were sympathetic to India's predicament, President George Bush ordered a re-examination of India's dossier. The very same State Department officials, who had earlier rejected the dossier, suddenly found a lot of merit in it and advised Bush that there were strong grounds for action against Pakistan.

As Bush lost the election, he left the dossier to his successor Bill Clinton for a decision. Clinton placed Pakistan on the so-called watch-list of suspected state-sponsors of international terrorism, instead of declaring it to be so.

Two other developments of 1993 further strengthened the Indian dossier. The first was the report of the U.S. experts who had visited the scene of the Mumbai blasts in March that one of the timers recovered was of U.S. origin, supplied to the Pakistan Arm y. The second was a report from U.S. intelligence officials that the arms and ammunition found on the LTTE ship carrying Kittu, which was intercepted by the Indian Navy, were actually given to the LTTE by Pakistan's narcotics barons in return for the LTT E's help in transporting narcotics consignments to Western ports on its ships registered in Greece, and that these arms and ammunition were loaded onto the ship at Karachi under the supervision of the ISI and the Pakistan Navy.

The ISI's action defied logic since Islamabad had close relations with Colombo and the LTTE was, in fact, massacring Muslims in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. Nawaz Sharif was shocked when this information was brought to his notice by the U.S. Embas sy in Islamabad. The ISI had kept him informed of its terrorist operations in India, but not of its links with the LTTE and its assistance to narcotics barons.

It was this which ultimately made Sharif succumb to Washington's pressure to remove Lt. Gen. Javed Nasir from the post of Director-General, ISI, and other officers suspected of promoting terrorism. It looked as though the State Department might, at long last, declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism. By then, Sharif's troubles with President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Gen. Abdul Waheed Kakkar, the then Chief of the Army Staff, had started and it was evident that his days were numbered. Ben azir Bhutto, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, sent urgent messages to the White House through her American friends that it should not take any action on India's dossier and that if she returned to power she would stop the ISI's activities. Tran scripts of her telephonic requests to the U.S. were available in the classified archives of the Government of India.

U.S. officials removed Pakistan from the watch-list in July 1993 and told New Delhi that they expected Benazir Bhutto to return to power and that they were hopeful that she would stop the ISI's activities. After coming back to power, Benazir did cooperat e with the U.S. in launching action against narcotics barons and against terrorists wanted by the U.S., but went back on her word to stop the ISI's activities against India.

It would thus be apparent that the more the evidence India presented against Pakistan, the more the pretexts the U.S. used for not acting against Pakistan. Why this U.S. reluctance to act against Pakistan?

FIRST, despite its strong pronouncements against terrorism, the U.S. acts only when its own nationals are threatened and not otherwise. Year after year, India has been presenting to the world clinching evidence of the involvement of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, backed by the ISI, in acts of terrorism. Activists of the organisation have massacred hundreds of Hindus in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. The U.S. has refrained from acting against it because, despite its anti-U.S. rhetoric, the group has refrained from attacks on U.S. nationals.

The Al-Umma of Tamil Nadu is a purely local entity with, as yet, no proven all-India or international links. India has, therefore, never taken up with the U.S. its activities. Al-Umma has never uttered any threat against the U.S. or other countries. Yet it finds mention on Pages 89 and 90 of Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1998, submitted by the State Department to Congress in May 1999. Why? Because in 1998 it had activated a crude explosive device at an important traffic junction in Chennai in or der to get some publicity for its demand for the release of its leaders. The device was planted in front of the U.S. Consulate. Since then the U.S. has been taking its activities seriously.

Secondly, the U.S.' strategic interests in Pakistan; its gratitude to Islamabad for backing Washington during the Cold War, particularly against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan; and a feeling of guilt for having contributed to Pakistan's present dysfunc tional state as a result of the cooperation extended to the U.S. in Afghanistan.

Thirdly, there is a more disquieting reason. In an interview in the late 1980s, the late Count Alexandre de Marenches, the chief of the SDECE (as the French external intelligence agency was then known) between 1974 and 1982, stated that during a visit to Washington he had proposed to Bill Casey, the then Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), that the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies help the Afghan Mujahideen produce heroin so that the Soviet Army could be destroyed through drug addiction.

According to the Count, Casey, who liked the idea, took him to Ronald Reagan, who was enthusiastic like a child and wanted the idea to be immediately implemented. However, the Count claimed, it was abandoned owing to strong opposition from sections of th e CIA. The fact of the matter is that it was not abandoned as claimed by the Count.

It was implemented vigorously by Pakistan-based CIA officers with the help of the ISI. They trained the Afghan Mujahideen not only in guerilla warfare, but also in methods of improving poppy cultivation and opium refining.

The drugs produced under the CIA's guidance were initially smuggled to the Soviet troops, but when the Mujahideen and the ISI officers found that there was more money to be made by smuggling them to the U.S. and West European countries they started doing so in large quantities.

The CIA lost control over the narcotics barons of its own creation just as it lost control over the terrorists of its own creation, such as bin Laden. These barons started ruining the lives and careers of thousands of American children.

The CIA has two types of experts - those of its counter-terrorism division who have not had much involvement in Pakistan of the 1980s and hence have no problem in recommending action against Pakistan, and those of the area (operational) division, many of whom won their professional spurs in the Pakistan of the 1980s and were closely involved in the production of terrorists and narcotics barons.

These experts and the State Department officials are worried over the possibility of the CIA's role in the promotion of the narcotics trade in the 1980s coming to light if they acted against Pakistan. And, Islamabad uses this possibility as a blackmailin g argument to deter Washington from declaring it a state-sponsor of international terrorism.

It is, therefore, unlikely that the U.S. would ever declare Pakistan a state-sponsor of international terrorism. But that should not deter India from pursuing its dossier against Pakistan. Pakistan has been waging a covert war against India since 1981- i nitially in Punjab, then in Kashmir from 1989 and later from other parts of India too. Covert aggressors are not defeated through open means, openly discussed. India needs to pursue its hard state agenda against Pakistan and, before doing that, needs to p repare the diplomatic groundwork for the new track.

B. Raman is a retired Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

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