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What the Intelligence Bureau knew

Print edition : Aug 23, 1997 T+T-

THE investigation by Frontline of recent discoveries of proxy accounts allegedly operated by senior Hurriyat Conference leaders confirms in part information that has long been available with the Intelligence Bureau. Since at least 1992, the agency has been following information that top secessionist politicians in the Kashmir Valley have been receiving money through the hawala channel, and that part of this money has been deployed to sponsor terrorist activity and make personal gain. An internal briefing note by the agency, which sources said was originally researched by one of Kashmir's longest-serving and respected police officials in the wake of the Jain hawala affair, outlines the suspected activities of several Hurriyat-affiliated figures.

Broadly, the note says, "money is known to have been transferred through several Kashmiri pressure groups" and the Inter-Services Intelligence directly, using well-established West Asia-based hawala operators. The hawala network itself appeared to cut across religious divides, for the briefing note names two Kashmiri Pandits resident in Delhi as being key figures in handling hawala funds for Hurriyat leaders. Only three of these leaders - Abdul Ghani Lone, Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Moulvi Abbas Ansari - have so far had First Information Reports filed against them by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This suggests a failure to translate the I.B.'s source information into legally actionable evidence. No action has been taken against the hawala operators or the intermediaries.

The I.B. note, which is undated but was written years before the recent recoveries of drafts and bank accounts allegedly held by Lone and Geelani, was remarkably accurate on the means by which funds were received by the secessionist politicians. "It is known," the note records, "that almost every secessionist politician used the 'hawala channel' to receive funds. Syed Ali Shah Geelani of the Jamait-e-Islami used the services of his son- in-law, Mr. Altaf Fantosh, who runs a cloth shop in the Lal Chowk outside the Tyndale Bisco School. Fantosh received money on behalf of the Hizbul Mujahideen from his hawala connections in New Delhi. The other person who has (been) trusted by Mr. Geelani for such sensitive operations has been Firdous Kirmani who also made visits to the capital for the same purpose."

According to the briefing note, Geelani purchased several pieces of property worth a cumulative total of Rs. 97 lakhs, including some in the name of Fantosh, and the leader claimed that all the property belonged to the Jamaat.

THE information in the briefing note on Lone was less detailed, but it suggested that his sons' West Asia business was being used as a conduit for funds from abroad. The CBI FIRs follow the charges in the briefing note almost to the last detail. In Moulvi Ansari's case, the briefing note records that he regularly received funds from the ISI and donations from Iran for his Shia sect organisation, the Nuzhat-e-Inquillabi Islami. Part of these funds, the note says, were appropriated en route by two prominent Kashmiri families, using the name of the Hizbul Momineen terrorist group. Again, anticipating the CBI FIR, the note records Ansari's acquisition of property at the Ali Masjid and Karan Nagar areas of Srinagar.

Those against whom no action has been taken by the CBI include Shabbir Shah, whose supporters used to describe him as the 'Nelson Mandela of the Valley'. The I.B. note accuses Iqbal Di- Thine, a former State government functionary allegedly responsible for several questionable business deals during the G.M. Shah Government's term in office, of handling funds intended for the Shah-affiliated Muslim Janbaz Force. The top insurgent Baber Bader, the note says, "is learnt to hold a grouse against Shabir Ahmad Shah that money was not passed on to him to strengthen the militant outfit." This allegation again appears vindicated by events, since Bader broke with Shah shortly before last year's Lok Sabha elections in Kashmir and set up the pro- India Forum for Permanent Resolution. Bader is now an MLC, elected with National Conference support.

OTHER examples of the nexus between terror and financial sleaze in Kashmir are interesting. The note mentions Haji Ali Shah, a prominent businessman who owns Alson Motors, as being the intermediary for ISI funding for the Al-Omer group's Mushtaq Latrum. Latrum, now in jail, reciprocated the favour by imposing a now-famous ban on the use of Maruti vans and jeeps in Kashmir. The beneficiary of this ban was Alson Motors, which was a dealer for Hindustan Motors, the manufacturer of other models of cars.

The I.B. briefing note is, obviously, of no legal value; carrying out investigations that lead to legally admissible evidence is not the agency's job. Nor does the Jammu and Kashmir Police, the source of much of the information in the report, have the capability to carry out a detailed investigation of international hawala networks and national banking operations related to terrorism.

What is evident, however, is that in at least three cases the conclusions of the note were remarkably accurate. Had the available information been followed up by the CBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the Income Tax authorities at the right time, lives might have been saved in Kashmir. But that, it would appear, was the last concern of successive Central governments, with the possible exception of the first United Front Ministry, which initiated the CBI FIRs as part of its commitment to support the Farooq Abdullah Government. Backtracking on the Kashmir hawala cases could have serious repercussions for Kashmir's prospects of peace.