Volume 17 - Issue 02, Jan. 22 - Feb. 04, 2000
India's National Magazine
from the publishers of THE HINDU
Table of Contents
KASHMIR AFTER KANDAHAR
|Ibrahim Akhtar Alvi||Sunny Ahmed Qazi||Shahid Akhtar Sayeed|
|Mistry Zahoor Ibrahim||Shaqir Ahmed alias R.G. Verma.|
Little is known for certain about what happened next. Latif has told his interrogators that he received a call from Kathmandu shortly before IC 814 took off, informing him that Ibrahim Akhtar had managed to make all arrangements necessary to execute the enterprise. Investigations suggest that weapons could have been carried into the departure lounge by Arshad Cheema, a First Secretary at the Pakistan Embassy. Cheema was seen at the Tribhuvan International Airport that afternoon, and obtained a VIP pass which allowed him unrestricted movement. Given that the Nepal Police subsequently discovered a large cache of forged Indian currency in Cheema's home, his involvement in other criminal activity appears on the face of it plausible.
Azhar's brother, for his part, appears to have telephoned his four associates from inside the departure lounge, having checked in early. IC 814 was delayed for over two and a half hours, allowing him time to complete the contact with Cheema before orderi ng the remaining members of the hijack cell to check in. Once IC 814 was in the air, Latif remained in contact with his handlers in Karachi. The Harkat-ul-Ansar operative was now told to function as something of a public relations officer for the hijacke rs. Three brothers from Jogeshwari - Rafiq Sheikh, Javed Sheikh and Muzaffar Sheikh - allowed Latif to use their public telephone booth to remain in contact with Karachi, a line he interchanged with his mobile phone.
Using Latif as a contact point for the hijackers made sense for more than one reason. In the event that the hijackers were arrested or shot, his role at the centre of the plot would allow the Harkat-ul-Ansar to claim that the entire operation was carried out by Indians. That, in turn, would affirm its long-standing claim that all Harkat-ul-Ansar operations in Jammu and Kashmir are part of a larger jehad against alleged repression of Muslim communities within "Hindu" India. And above all, the Harkat-ul-A nsar understood that important news establishments are immediately placed under surveillance by their national intelligence establishments during times of crisis. Incoming calls from India were almost certain to be intercepted, and would help deflect bla me from Pakistan.
ONE of those telephone calls was to prove disastrous. Among the journalists Latif contacted was a staff reporter of the British Broadcasting Corporation's Urdu service unit in London. The purpose of his call was to complain about the Indian negotiators' intransigence in Kandahar. RAW personnel engaged in what they describe as a technical operation intercepted the telephone call, made on December 28. When RAW chief A.S. Dulat visited Jammu to persuade Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to allow the release o f Masood Azhar and Mushtaq Zargar, he promised rapid progress in Mumbai in the matter of tracking the hijackers.
Working with the telephone number provided by RAW, Mumbai Crime Branch investigators tracked down Latif. The Jogeshwari cell was tracked down by December 30. Two AK-56 assault rifles, which had been shipped in for the cell's future operations, and the sm all arms used in the Borivili bank robbery were found hidden in the apartment. The second cell had, however, disappeared from Amar Chawl. Sketches have been circulated of the three members of this second cell, who have been identified by their operationa l aliases, but investigators believe that at least two others were involved. "We've worked very hard to find these people," says Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police D. Sivanandhan. "We'll get the rest soon."
There is little doubt that investigations are indeed on the right trail. Despite Pakistan's embarrassed denials of complicity, the fact remains that it has yet to explain just why Azhar has not been arrested or even questioned. Ibrahim Akhtar, for his pa rt, has not returned to his family's home in Bhawalpur. The Alvi family claims that their son is away in Saudi Arabia, but his continued absence in the face of his long-jailed brother's return home is mystifying. Embassy official Cheema's expulsion from Nepal, on politely phrased charges of espionage, have also proved an enormous embarrassment to Pakistan.
Yet, the investigation has shown that in at least some meaningful ways the Harkat-ul-Ansar's pan-Indian jehad is being realised. Latif's arrest is not the first of impoverished, riot-hit young people who turned to fascist terror. On August 20, 1999, the Jammu and Kashmir Police announced the unearthing of a Lashkar-e-Taiba cell, with operatives in Bhiwandi, near Mumbai and in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Earlier, Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives Mohammad Salim Junaid and Abdul Sattar were arrested along with Indian nationals Shoaib Alam, Mohammad Faisal Hussain and Aamer Hashim Kamran. Organisations such as the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front even liaised with Abdul Razzak Memon, an accused in the serial bombings in Mumbai in March 1993.
THE Bharatiya Janata Party's role in preparing the ground for the Islamic Far Right's new offensive is only too evident. The Mumbai riots of 1992-1993 marked the cumulative outcome of communal pogroms which littered the path of the BJP's Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. And the Hindu Right's role in transforming the war in Jammu and Kashmir from a localised insurgency does not end there. Official figures establish that the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir has deteriorated under BJP rule in New Delhi, of ten as the result of the Union Government's apathy and lack of support to anti-terrorist organisations (see separate story). It is hard to escape the cynical idea that the Hindu Right perhaps sees long-term benefit in the ongoing campaign of terror by re vanchist Islamic groups.
Tomar's presence on IC 814 becomes relevant here. It is no one's case that the RAW officer's presence on the flight significantly influenced policy, or that his life, despite his important connections, was a central concern. His story, however, merely il lustrates the web of power that surrounds many upper-middle class citizens who holiday in Kathmandu. The BJP is entirely willing to sacrifice the lives of soldiers - most of whom will never be able to afford to travel anywhere on vacation - on the Kargil heights or in counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir. The standards for the Indian elite, however, are different. The future of Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps not important enough a cause for the BJP to have taken the hard decisions that were n eeded during the hijacking of IC 814.
This lack of will in Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps above all ideological. India's war in Kashmir has been premised on the need to defend its core secular foundations, a set of beliefs that the BJP and other elements in the National Democratic Alliance hav e long rejected. From being a war for the defence of India, the battle in Jammu and Kashmir has now become an enterprise of short-term political necessity: witness the Hindu Right's suggestion that the hijacking was the outcome not of its incompetence bu t of some form of supposed Hindu weakness. As the BJP pushes ahead with its campaign of communal mobilisation, predominantly Muslim Kashmir is set to become further sundered from the rest of the country, and even with the mainly Hindu areas of the State with which it has had historic linkages.
The apartment complex on S.V. Road in Mumbai,
from where suspected Harkat-ul-Ansar agent Abdul Latif operated a cell that laid the ground for the hijacking.
Apart from begging the United States to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, the BJP has no evident agenda for action. As Latif's arrest illustrates, the hijacking marks just one more phase in a much larger war, one which the rise of the Hindu Right has t ransfigured. India has always insisted, with good reason, that it does not want international interference in Jammu and Kashmir. Now its policy is confined to asking the U.S. to declare Pakistan a terrorist state. In the unlikely event that the U.S. does ever choose to denounce a compliant and strategically important regime, India will still have to deal with the problems it is confronted with. How it might do that, the Union Government has not had answers for, least of all after the Kandahar debacle.