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Pakistan & Terrorism

02/01/2000 | by Raman, B.  
Reprinted with permission from South Asia Analysis Group

In the history of the Indian civil aviation, there have been 13 hijackings (including the latest to Kandahar), all involving the Indian Airlines (IA) aircraft. Seven of these were carried out by groups with known links to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the other six by groups or individuals with no such links.

Of the seven ISI-linked groups, six were indigenous (Sikh and Kashmiri terrorists) and the seventh (the latest) is a Pakistan-based Islamic Jihadi terrorist group, which has been active in the Philippines, Myanmar, India, the Central Asian Republics, the Xinjiang province of China and Chechnya and Dagestan in Russia, and which claims to have trained a small group of Afro-American citizens of the US in the past.

The fact that ISI-linked groups generally hijack only IA and not Air India flights is due to the fact that during their training in Pakistan, they are instructed by the ISI to avoid Air India flights, which are likely to contain a large number of foreigners. This could create problems for Pakistan with Western Governments and their intelligence agencies might focus their investigation on the Pakistani involvement.

On January 30,1971, brothers Hashim and Ashraf Quereshi of the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front, armed with a pistol and a hand grenade, hijacked Ganga, a Fokker Friendship aircraft of the Indian Airlines (IA), after it had taken off from Srinagar for Jammu and forced the pilot to take it to Lahore.

After the aircraft had landed, Zuklfiquar Ali Bhutto, then Foreign Minister under Yahya Khan, rushed to Lahore, fraternised with the hijackers and helped them get maximum international publicity for their cause. On February 1, he persuaded them to release the crew and passengers who were sent by road to Amritsar.

The Government of India sought the permission of the Pakistani authorities to send a replacement crew to fly the aircraft back to India. The ISI handed over to the hijackers explosives with which they blew up the aircraft the next day.

On February 4, in retaliation, Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, banned all Pakistani civil and military overflights through Indian airspace, which remained in force till the normalisation of relations after the Shimla Agreement. The consequent aggravation of the logistic difficulties of the Pakistan army in the then East Pakistan partly contributed to its debacle in its war with India in December 1971.

The Dal Khalsa, a Sikh extremist group that came into being in the late 1970s, took to hijacking as a weapon of intimidation in 1981. Between September 29,1981, and August 24, 1984, it hijacked four IA aircraft and took them to Lahore. The hijackers of September 29,1981, were overpowered by Pakistani commandos and the released passengers, crew and aircraft returned to India.

The Zia-ul-Haq regime turned down the request of the Govt. of India to hand over the hijackers to India for trial and said they would be tried before a Pakistani court. Instead of doing so, it allowed the hijackers to live in the Nankana Sahib gurudwara at Lahore, from where they were directing the terrorist activities of the Dal Khalsa in Punjab. The Govt. of India repeatedly brought this to the notice of the US, but Washington was reluctant to act against the Zia regime, which had started playing an important role for the US in Afghanistan.

However, in 1982, the Zia regime refused permission to two hijacked planes to land in Lahore and forced them back to Amritsar, where the hijacking was terminated by the Indian authorities.

Dr.Jagjit Singh Chauhan of the so-called Khalistan movement based in London, and Ganga Singh Dhillon of the Washington-based Nankana Sahib Foundation, who was a close personal friend of Zia, strongly protested to Zia over the refusal of permission.

When a fourth IA plane was hijacked by the Sikh terrorists to Lahore on August 24,1984, Zia, therefore, ordered the ISI to permit it to land, help the hijackers to meet the media and then persuade them to go away to Dubai. The ISI found that the hijackers had intimidated the pilot only with a toy pistol. They, therefore, gave them a German pistol with ammunition.

After terminating the hijacking at Dubai, the local authorities handed over to the Indian officials the hijackers and the pistol given to them at Lahore.The Govt. of India referred the pistol to the West German authorities, who replied in writing that the pistol, manufactured in Germany, was part of a consignment sold to the Pakistan Government by the German manufacturers.

The Govt. of India brought this German report to the notice of Washington and sought action against the Zia regime. Under US pressure, Zia ordered the removal of the Dal Khalsa hijackers from the Nankana Sahib to the Lahore jail. They were tried and sentenced to imprisonment, on completion of which expelled from Pakistan. Thereafter, there was no ISI-inspired hijacking till Gen.Pervez Musharraf seized power on October 12,1999.

In 1992, the Narasimha Rao Government shared with Washington a wealth of evidence gathered by the Indian agencies regarding Pakistani State sponsorship of terrorism in India and urged that Pakistan should be declared a State sponsor of terrorism under the US laws and economic sanctions imposed against it.

Washington expressed its inability to act on the basis of Indian evidence on the ground that most of it was circumstantial and not direct and that much of it was based on interrogation reports, which, in the eyes of the US law, are suspect unless independently corroborated by documentary or technical evidence.

After the Mumbai blasts of March, 1993, the Narasimha Rao Govt. decided to invite the counter-terrorism experts of the US and other Western countries to visit the spot immediately after the blasts and make their own examination of the scene of the crime. The idea was that if their experts concluded that Pakistan was behind the blasts, even if they did not share this with their Indian counterparts, they would, at least, go back and tell their political leadership about it.

An Austrian expert, who came to India, gave in writing that the hand grenades used by the terrorists in Mumbai while escaping after the blasts had been manufactured in an ordnance factory of the Pakistan Government with technology and machine tools supplied by the Austrian company.

The US experts told their Indian counterparts that a timer found with an unexploded explosive device looked suspiciously American and wanted to take it to the US for examination. They were allowed to do so. Later, they sent to New Delhi an unsigned written report (a non paper) that their examination had established that the timer was of US-origin and was part of a consignment of timers supplied by the US army to Pakistan's.

The Govt. of India pointed out that this was the clinching corroborative evidence, which they had always wanted, and that, therefore, they should not have any further difficulty in declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of terrorism.

US officials expressed their inability to do so on the ground that there was considerable leakage of arms and ammunition and explosives from the Pakistan army stocks to smugglers and that the recovery of this timer in Mumbai did not necessarily mean that it was given to the terrorists by an official agency of Pakistan. According to them, to declare a country as a State sponsor of terrorism, conclusive evidence of the complicity of an official agency and knowledge, if not approval, of such complicity by the political leadership was essential.

After rejecting the Indian plea, Washington made its own assessment of ISI involvement in terrorism in India and forced Mr.Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, to remove from the ISI its then Director-General, Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir, and a number of his senior officers who, Washington believed, had a role in promoting terrorism.

While this action was good in so far as it went, it did not help the Government of India since their successors continued to organise terrorist acts in Indian territory. The US action against the ISI officers, however, resulted in an important change in the ISI's modus operandi (MO).

Previously, the ISI used to interact directly with the Sikh, Kashmiri and other terrorist groups from India and run the training camps for them with the help of serving officers. Since then, it has been increasingly using private Islamic terrorist organisations for supplying money and equipment to the terrorists in India and for running the training camps in Afghan territory, instead of in Pakistani territory.

Among such organisations used by the ISI are the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), previously known as the Harkat-ul-Ansar, which was declared by the US as an international terrorist organisation in October, 1997, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Al Badr and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. All these organisations are members of bin Laden's International Islamic Front (also called the International Islamic Salvation Front) for Jihad Against the US and Israel.

There is the following strong evidence of the HUM's involvement in the Kandahar hijacking: the only phone call claiming responsibility came from an Islamic Salvation Front; there were identical names in the lists of prisoners whose release was demanded by the phone-caller and by the hijackers; the prisoners, whose release was demanded, were Pakistani nationals or of Pakistani origin and belonged to the HUM.

The involvement of the ISI and the Pakistan army with these organisations and particularly the HUM, would be evident from the following:

# These organisations function openly in Pakistan and their annual conventions are attended by serving officers of the army and political leaders. They and their leaders address press conferences, give interviews and issue statements giving details of their terrorist activities in India and other countries. The Army has not taken any action against them--not even against the HUM, which has been declared an international terrorist organisation by the US.
# The investigastion and trial in 1995 by the Benazir Bhutto regime of a group of army officers headed by Major-Gen.Zaheer-ul-Islam Abbasi arrested on a charge of planning a coup brought out that all the arrested officers had close links with the HUM. Mr.M.H.Askari , the well-known Pakistani columnist, wrote in the "Dawn" (October 18,1995) as follows: " It is said that the plotters had close links with the Hizbul Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Ansar, which are known for their involvement in international terrorism. It is also said that the arrested officers wanted Pakistan to become militarily involved in the Kashmir freedom struggle." It was said that during their interrogation the arrested officers also implicated Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then a Lt.Gen. and Director-General of Military Operations, but no action was taken against him for want of evidence.

The Govt. of India should once again take up with the US the question of declaring Pakistan a State-sponsor of Terrorism and with the International Civil Aviation Organisation the question of advising member-countries to suspend the Pakistan International Airways flights till Pakistan arrests and hands over the hijackers and stops such acts of terrorism.

US officials have been repeatedly rejecting Indian evidence of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism as circumstantial and not direct, but in the New York World Trade Centre and Oklahoma bombing cases, US courts have ruled that in terrorism-related cases conviction could be based purely on circumstantial evidence, if it was strong enough and provided a continuous chain of events.

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India,and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai.
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