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ISI keeps Punjab on the edge

While Pakistan is asking India to give peace a chance, its agencies are busy radicalising Sikh youth; Punjab Police busted 17 terror modules with 97 arrests in 20 months.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2018 10:38 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab,ISI,Pakistan
Punjab DGP Suresh Arora with weapons recovered from the accused of targeted killings in Punjab in November 2017.(HT File Photo)

Pakistan terms the Kartarpur Corridor a harbinger of peace, particularly for the two Punjabs, but the ground reality belies the neighbouring country’s desperate bid to revive the separatist Khalistan movement by using its Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) to target the state with an eye on ‘Referendum 2020’, a campaign to “liberate” the state.

In the past 20 months, Punjab Police’s intelligence wing busted 17 terror modules, arrested 97 operators and recovered 77 weapons, including automatic weapons, RDX and 12 hand-grenades.

State police chief Suresh Arora says, “There has been a spurt in the ISI’s efforts to destabilise Punjab. By joining hands with Khalistan terrorists across the fence and in other countries, the agency has been radicalising poor, religiously charged and even educated Sikh youngsters through misinformation on social media.” A funding drive is on to lure youngsters into terror activities, he says.

The motive of the modules is to trigger terror, kill political and religious activists and cause communal tension in the border state. The police say that the ISI has shifted its focus to bring back insurgency in the state by providing tactical support to ‘Referendum 2020’ being organised by the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a pro-Khalistan organisation with offices in the UK, US and Canada that promotes itself as a human rights advocacy group. Gurpatwant Singh Pannu is its legal adviser.

The main task of 10 of the 17 modules busted by Punjab Police recently was to carry out terror activities and further project Referendum-2020, police claims.

All modules had links with ISI-backed Khalistani forces in Pakistan which colluded with Sikh extremists operating from the UK, Canada, Italy, France and other countries to bring back insurgency in Punjab.

Police records show that since March 2017, three arms consignments have been pushed into Punjab by the ISI in connivance with Pakistan-based Sikh outfits such as International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) and Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF). These consignments consisted of five AK-47 rifles, an MP9 submachine gun, 10 pistols and 11 hand-grenades.

How ISI runs its Punjab’s plan

By the early ’90s when militancy was stamped out of Punjab, top leaders of Khalistan groups fled to Pakistan with the help of the ISI that provided shelter, training and also assured them that they would be launched into India at an appropriate time. “The Khalistan movement failed in India but the ISI is not letting it get wiped out and is making desperate efforts to revive it,” says Arora.

Though the Khalistan ideologues in Pakistan tried to test the waters in Punjab by spreading terror activities since 2001 but their activities have seen a spurt after 2015. It was this year the targeted killings of pro-Hindu and religious leaders were planned to spread terror. It was after eight killings that Punjab Police cracked the case in November 2017. Babbar Khalsa International (BKI)’s Harmeet ‘PhD’ and UK-based Paramjit Pamma had planned the killings with logistic support provided by the ISI.

Interestingly, the grenade thrown at the Nirankari congregation in Amritsar last month and the one recovered from Shabhnamdeep Singh, a Khalistan Gaddar Force member, belong to the ‘HG 84’ category. These grenades are manufactured at Pakistan Ordnance Factories and commonly used by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Austria armies.

SFJ an ISI tool

Indian agencies claim that the SFJ’s ‘Refrendum 2020’ to carve out a Sikh nation from India is actually the ISI’s game plan. The ISI has named it the ‘Operation Express’ and Pakistan Army’s officer from the 25th Batallion of Baloch Regiment Lt Colonel Shahid Mehmood Malhi, famous as ‘Chaudhary Sahib’, has been made the nodal officer for the referendum that the SFJ plans to carry out among the Sikh community across the globe on June 6, 2020.

Only last week, the Pakistan government allowed SFJ activists to set up offices in Lahore.

Even the SFJ legal adviser has confirmed this development by claiming that the group has installed Khalistan banners and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s flags at the Nankana Sahib Gurdwara and would start voters’ registration for the referendum. The SFJ will distribute T-shirts and questionnaire pamphlets on Punjab’s independence among the devotees visiting Pakistan for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of Guru Nanak.

Pakistan is going to witness a huge rush of Sikh devotees from across the globe, especially from India, at three main places: Nankana Sahib Gurdwara (the birth place of Guru Nanak), Panja Sahib (where the handprint of the Guru is believed to be imprinted on a boulder), and Kartarpur (where the first Sikh guru spent his last years).

Only a few days back, officials from the Indian High Commission were denied access to Nankana Sahib and Sacha Sauda Gurdwara situated in Pakistan Punjab. India has already protested to it, claiming it was done at the behest of the ISI.

“Backed by the ISI, the SFJ has already planned to fan anti-India sentiment among Sikhs who will visit Pakistan in the coming one year for celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak,” is the input provided by central agencies to the Punjab government.

Attempts via Kashmir

Punjab Police officials say the ISI has also recently shifted its strategy for Punjab and involved Kashmir’s terrorist groups too.

At least seven students from Kashmir studying in Punjab have recently been arrested by Punjab Police, and the blast at the Maqsudan police station in Jalandhar was also found out to be the handiwork of students having allegiance to Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind (AGH), a Kashmir-based terror outfit with reported links to Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). Punjab Police has strong suspicions that the source of grenades thrown at the Maqsudan police station and Amritsar congregation and the one recovered from Shabhnamdeep in Patiala is the same.

First Published: Dec 02, 2018 10:38 IST