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Punjab Assessment - Year 2010

The north-west Indian State of Punjab remained peaceful through 2009. This is the 16th consecutive year the State has remained relatively free of major political violence after the widespread terrorist-secessionist movement for ‘Khalistan’ was comprehensively defeated in 1993.

Central intelligence sources, however, indicate that a concerted attempt to revive militancy in the State is under way. In February 2009, a joint meeting between militants of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) chief Wadhawa Singh was held at Rawalpindi in Pakistan, where they planned terrorist attacks in Punjab during the Parliamentary elections held in the fourth and fifth phases on May 7 and May 13, 2009. Sources in the agencies said the Pakistan-based terrorist outfits had planned to take help of local BKI cadres for logistical support. A similar meeting had also taken place in December 2008 when Pakistan-based terrorist outfits had planned to infiltrate their cadres through the fenced western border in Punjab and Rajasthan. Intelligence agencies believed that Wadhawa Singh continues to be a vital link between terrorists in other countries and some radical elements in the Sikh community in Punjab. Wadhawa Singh, hiding in Pakistan, is one of the 40 most-wanted terrorists India has sought to be deported from Pakistan.

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, continues to give support to the Khalistani terrorist groups. The Director General of Punjab Police, Paramdeep Singh Gill, said on August 17, 2009 that the ISI is actively engaged in reviving militancy in the State by providing arms and money to Sikh extremists. He also said on October 10, 2009 that groups like the BKI was being provided with funds through a leading money transfer agency and hawala operation. Earlier on April 23, 2009, a joint meeting of senior ISI officers with representatives of Al Qaeda, LeT, Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) and Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) was held near Talwandi in Pakistan. The meeting was attended by Neeta, KZF leader, and Nazira Begum, wife of Shah Mohammad, principal of training camp at Kotli in Pakistan. The military intelligence sources said that a group of 935 Pakistani women, who are being trained by the ISI in the Faridkot District of Punjab province in Pakistan to entice men and motivate them into becoming terrorists in India, are also given training at the Kotli camp. The sources said these women, taught to breach national boundaries, generally enter India through West Bengal and Bihar borders and are equally adept at using computers and in blackmailing youth. Further, on March 18, 2009, the Punjab Police neutralised an ISI sponsored espionage ring with the arrest of four persons, including two of them with a terrorist background. The arrestees were identified as Naib Singh, Baldev Singh, Sukhdev Singh and Randhir Singh, all residents of different villages in the Faridkot District. Naib Singh and Baldev Singh have a terrorist background and several cases under The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) ACT, 1987, were registered against them, according to a Punjab Police spokesman. Sensitive documents relating to important military installations, photographs, charts, movements of military units, diaries containing Pakistani telephone numbers and mobile phones and fake currency of the face value of INR 20,000 were seized from the possession of the arrested persons.

The KZF carried out attacks on a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) killing a saint, Sant Rama Nand, in the Austrian capital Vienna on May 24, 2009. The London-based Akash Radio Website sated that it had received an e-mail claiming responsibility for the attack, written on the KZF's letterhead and signed by one Ranjit Singh. The KZF was said to have said the incident occurred because "these people did not heed to the warnings that they should not disrespect Guru Granth Sahibji by sitting parallel to Sri Guru Granth Sahibji; letting people bow before them in the Guru Sahib's presence and committing various unacceptable anti-maryada (Sikh code of conduct) acts. As they continued to commit such sins, the KZF was forced to take this action." Meanwhile, another outlawed militant outfit, the BKI, which also figured on the U.S. list of terrorist organisations, had condemned the killing of Sant Rama Nand in Vienna. Akash Radio claimed that the BKI chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar said in an e-mail that the entire Sikh Panth regretted the attack on Sant Niranjan Das and Sant Rama Nand. The e-mail said: "Everyone knows that this attack was not done by the Sikh Panth. Indian agencies are behind this attack; and they are trying to split the Ravidasiya community from the Sikh Panth. The Khalsa Panth will continue to cherish this relationship formed since the times of Guru Nanak Devji… The Khalsa Panth requests the Ravidasiya community to maintain peace. The Khalsa Panth will always stand by the Ravidasiya community and will not let the Indian agencies succeed in their mal-intensions."

Punjab was also used as a corridor for illegal movement of man and material across the India-Pakistan border. For instance, on August 15, 2009, the Border Security Force personnel arrested four Pakistani intruders who were trying to enter India through the Tarn Taran District. Two kilograms of heroin, two pistols, two Pakistani mobiles and Pakistani currency notes were recovered from their possession.

The Punjab Police registered a number of counter-terrorism successes in 2009, as had been the case in previous years. On August 27, the Police arrested a suspected militant from Ludhiana for plotting to kill the Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Sukhbir Singh Badal, the Deputy Chief Minister. Daljit Singh Bittu, who was involved in the Khalistan militant movement during the 1980s, was arrested from his house following information provided by suspected terrorist Balbir Singh Bhutna, Police said. Bhutna was arrested at the Ludhiana railway station on August 25 after a shootout in which one person was killed and two Policemen were injured. During investigation, Bhutana disclosed that they had plans to kill the Punjab Chief Minister and his son. Bittu is president of the Akali Dal (Amritsar-Panjpradhani), a party which he floated after his release from jail. In another search operation on August 27, four persons, including a Police constable, were arrested for allegedly providing shelter to a convict in the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh. They were arrested for harbouring Jagtar Singh Hawara of the BKI. Hawara, the mastermind in the 1995 assassination, had jumped jail a few years back and the four had allegedly given him shelter. The Amritsar Police arrested Constable Pavitar Singh, posted in Patiala District, Bhupinder Singh, his wife Amarjit Kaur and Jaspal Singh from Beas town, 40 kilometers from Amritsar. A sophisticated revolver was recovered from them. They were allegedly having close links with the BKI, according to the Punjab Police. Hawara was rearrested and lodged in the Burail jail in Amritsar. On September 4, the Punjab Police claimed of seizing 2.5 kilograms of RDX, said to be a part of the consignment used in the attack on the convoy of Dera Sacha Sauda (a group regarded as 'heretic' by orthodox Sikhs) chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh on February 2, 2008 near Pipli in Karnal District. The Police also claimed to have seized two detonators and a pistol from two-murder accused brought to Patiala from Mansa for interrogation in another case. Further, on October 21, the Special Operation Cell of Punjab Police arrested Barkat Singh, a militant of the KZF. Police said that Barkat was a close associate of Ranjit Singh, the KZF chief who is based in Pakistan, against whom many cases pertaining to terrorist activities were registered.

Outside Punjab, the Rajasthan Police and the Special Operations Group (SOG) seized a consignment of explosives and firearms from a village in Barmer District on September 13, 2009. With that seizure, the Police foiled attempts by the BKI to execute attacks in the country, said official sources. Intelligence agencies and the SOG in Rajasthan revealed that the ISI was using the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan to push in lethal material into India. Two carriers, Fotia and Alia, belonging to Pakistan, were entrusted with the task of pushing the consignment, sources mentioned.

Despite the abject failure of the Khalistan movement, there has been steady Pakistani support for various Sikh militant groups which retain residual capacity to cause local disruption in Punjab, an exigency that very much dovetails with Pakistan's long-term strategic intent in India.







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