On June 23, 2021, an explosive laden vehicle exploded near the house of Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] co-founder and 9/11 Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed located in Johar Town area of Lahore. Pakistan’s then Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi alleged that this incident was orchestrated by India’s spy agency Research and Analysis Wing [RAW], and went on record to say, “We expect the international community to take notice of solid evidence provided by Pakistan about Indian involvement in Johar Town, Lahore terror incident.” [Emphasis added].
However, as the international community took no notice of Islamabad’s so-called “solid evidence,” it’s apparent that [like always], this was yet once again a classic case of Pakistan ‘crying wolf’! Yet, Qureshi’s veiled suggestion that New Delhi had given RAW a ‘license to kill’ fired the imagination of many, and soon social media was abuzz with suggestive claims of RAW having embarked on a killing spree and was eliminating terrorist leaders-right, left and centre!
A list of at least 16 terrorists killed by “unknown gunmen” that has been doing rounds on social media includes names of 10 J&K and six Khalistani terrorist leaders. The deceased J&K terrorist operatives, includes those who masterminded the 1999 Air India flight 814 hijack, 2016 Pathankot air base, 2018 Sunjwan army camp and the January 2023Dhangri [Rajouri] terrorist attacks, as well as some close associates of Hizbul Mujahideen [HM] chief Syed Salahuddin and Jaish-e-Mohammad [JeM] chief Masood Azhar.
The killing of more than a dozen J&K terrorist commanders and four key functionaries belonging to various Khalistani groups during this year. This is definitely unprecedented and raises suspicions that these killings spread all over Pakistan, in Afghanistan as well Canada could well be part of a massive cloak and dagger operation carried out by a formidable entity with the extraordinary capability of seamlessly executing such an elaborate plan in foreign lands.
Since both J&K terrorists and pro-Khalistan groups are promoting secessionist agendas and waging war against the state, for the needle of suspicion to point at New Delhi is but natural. With Pakistan exploiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unproven undiplomatic claim about “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in the killing of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar by saying that “India’s network of extra-territorial killings has now gone global,” [Emphasis added], this apprehension gains further strength.
Many social media buffs are portraying RAW as the Indian version of Israel’s spy agency Mossad and some are even equating these killings with Mossad’s covert ‘Wrath of God’ operation launched to hunt down perpetrators of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes.
The belief that RAW is personification of the typical Bollywood hero on the righteous mission of dispensing ‘immediate justice’ by eliminating the ‘bad guys’ provides a terrific ‘ego massage’ to the large section of action-hungry Indians. Hence, despite there being no credible evidence, this claim nevertheless has found public acceptance and even many prominent Indian news portals have been publishing news of such killing with headlines and catchy leads suggestive of Indian involvement.
While the NDTV news report [September 9] screamed “Terrorist Wanted By India Shot Dead In Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir,” a news report [September 29] in The Economic Times, reads “Lashkar activist’s killing in Karachi keeps ISI guessing in Pakistan.” India Today’s October 11 news report on these killings is captioned “From Nijjar to Shahid Latif: India’s enemies fall one after other on foreign soil” and the News 18 news report headline [November 14] states, ‘Seven Most Wanted Terrorists Killed in 7 Months: Who’s Next as ‘Assailants’ Raid Pak’s Safe Houses?’
While the Times of India on targeted killings [November 18] says “Many on India’s ‘most wanted list’ killed in Pakistan”, its lead reads, “Pakistan downplays such incidents’[Emphasis added].
While some governments do authorise covert operations involving targeted killings, due to obvious reasons, but no country is so naïve as to go on such a reckless assassination spree as one is currently witnessing and there are reasons aplenty for this.
Firstly, back-to-back killings unnecessarily attract suspicion and can easily compromise the secrecy of this abhorrent and criminal enterprise, which no country would like. As there’s no tearing hurry for extra-judicial elimination of designated ‘targets’, why should any government or its ‘dirty tricks’ department act with undue haste and risk attracting international attention?
Secondly, covert plots entailing multiple assassinations in foreign lands are a tricky affair because probability of discovery rises exponentially. Despite extraordinary precautions some tell-tale signs invariably show up and readers would recall that even Mossad couldn’t keep its ‘Wrath of God’ operation under wraps.
So, isn’t it practically improbable that RAW would be able to allegedly commit more than one and a half dozen assassinations in quick succession and yet leave no trace?
Lastly, had there been even the slightest suspicion of RAW involvement, Islamabad would have certainly blown it out of proportion. The reasoning that Pakistan is downplaying India’s role in these killings to save ISI from embarrassment isn’t convincing as accusing India of orchestrating terrorist acts in Pakistan has been Islamabad’s staple all along.
And if Islamabad can accuse RAW of orchestrating the 2021 Johar Town car bomb blast, there’s no reason whatsoever for it to conceal evidence of New Delhi’s involvement in killing of top J&K terrorist commanders and Khalistani functionaries. Moreover, with Islamabad demanding that India be investigated by the International terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force [FATF], not releasing evidence in support of its claim only weakens Pakistan’s case.
Those who insist that RAW is involved in these killings would argue that the Canadian Government has claimed to have “credible evidence” of Indian involvement in Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing. However, Ottawa’s claim remains suspect as it hasn’t made this so called ‘credible evidence’ public despite New Delhi’s repeated demands.
So, could it be that just like Pakistan’s claim of having “solid evidence” in the 2019 Johar Town car bomb attack, Canada’s “credible evidence” assertion on Khalistani activist Nijjar’s killing too can’t stand on its own legs?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pompously proclaimed that Canada “will always stand up for the rule of law.” In a veiled reference to India, he has also mentioned that “if bigger countries can violate international law without consequences, then the whole world gets more dangerous for everyone.” So, Trudeau’s hesitation in fulfilling his moral responsibility towards the international community by revealing information regarding India’s alleged involvement in Nijjar’s killing is, to say the least, inexplicable!
The spate of murderous attacks on J&K terrorist leaders and Khalistani activists is undoubtedly a well planned operation, but if it’s not RAW, then who’s behind these killings?
Some contend that Pakistan army’s spy agency Inter Services Intelligence [ISI] could be behind these killings. However, others dismiss this claim by contending as to why ISI should eliminate its own ‘strategic assets’? Though a logical inference, probability of ISI involvement is high for several reasons.
One, it could well be a routine ‘culling’ exercise undertaken by ISI to get rid of ‘assets’ who have either outlived their utility or present a potential threat to Rawalpindi. In the past, several of its protégés groomed to fight in J&K like former HM terrorist Mast Gul and founder of Harkat-ul Jihad-al-Islami’s 313 Brigade Ilyas Kashmiri switching loyalties to anti-Pakistan army terrorist groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] and Al Qaida respectively. Hence with experience ISI has realised that periodic elimination of its ‘assets’ who have [or could] become ‘liabilities’ is a compulsion.
Two, as a precautionary measure ISI often silences ‘had been’ terrorist masterminds involved in major terror related acts whose disclosures could cause major embarrassment. Anti-Iran terrorist group Jaish-ul-Adal is sustained by Rawalpindi whose commander named Mullah Omar Irani was instrumental in kidnapping retired Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav from Iran in 2016. When this information got leaked, ISI eliminated not only Irani but both his sons too in a staged encounter in Turbat district of Balochistan to prevent him from spilling the beans!
Accordingly, systematic elimination of the masterminds behind the Air India flight hijack, Pathankot air base, Sunjwan and Rajouri terrorist attacks as well as certain close associates of HM chief Syed Salahuddin and Jaish-e-Mohammad [JeM] chief Masood Azhar has ISI written all over it.
Three, these killings could partially be part of an internal ISI ‘cleaning up’ exercise aimed at ridding terrorist leadership of those close to ISI’s notorious former chief Maj Gen [later Lt Gen] Faiz Hameed] or were not cooperating wholeheartedly with the present dispensation. Such ‘clean-ups’ are again a routine ISI practice.
In the early nineties, ISI used its newly created HM terrorist group to wipe out the military wing of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front [JKLF] and this bloody purge was so intense that JKLF founder Amanullah Khan claimed that HM had killed more JKLF cadres than Indian security forces! Targeted killings of its protégés who dared cross swords with ISI like HM commander and co-founder of Tehreek-e-Jihad-e-Islami Bashir Ahmed Regoo [in 1997], top HM commanders Abdul Hamid Tantray [in 2001] and Abdul Majeed Dar [in 2003] are just a few other such examples.
The fact that ISI didn’t even spare All Party Hurriyat Conference co-founder and People’s Conference chief Abdul Gani Lone indicates just how ruthless this spy agency is.
Some analysts opine that these killings may be the result of turf war and personal rivalries between terrorist groups. However, if it was so, ISI would have definitely stepped in and forced an end to these internecine killings that resulted in attrition of the spy agency’s precious assets. Hence, it’s apparent that ISI is behind the ongoing killing of J&K terrorists and Khalistani activists who are either of no further use or potential turncoats.
And the irony is that the same Indians who think they are embarrassing ISI by exposing its sheer incompetence in preventing targeted killings of its ‘assets’, are actually giving ISI a free run to tidy up its own house by ascribing the culling of its ‘deadweight’ to RAW!