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December 25, 1999
ISI operated with impunity in Nepal
Josy Joseph in New Delhi
It was a tragedy waiting to happen. The hijack drama, one of the worst in Indian history, has finally confirmed what has been known all along: Kathmandu is the key operational centre of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence for its diabolic activities in India. A deadly combination of international terrorism and narcotics has established it in the back lanes of the Nepalese capital.
The Indian government has been petitioning the Nepalese government for almost a decade now to take serious notice of the ISI operations in Kathmandu. The neighbouring nation's governments have been reiterating over the years that they would not allow Islamic fundamentalist activities in the world's only Hindu kingdom.
Evidence collected and corroborated by the Indian intelligence agencies has, however, proved the Nepalese authorities wrong.
The Delhi police, which was investigating the serial bomb blasts in the national capital in 1997-98, had established that several key ISI operatives who masterminded about 30 blasts in the city, were operating from Kathmandu. Tunda, a crucial ISI operative, used to stay in Kathmandu very often, the Delhi police had claimed then.
Authoritative sources in the Indian Military Intelligence told rediff.com today that Indian security agencies had increased their presence along the extremely porous border with Nepal in the last few years. "The government of Nepal has never been able to give any positive sign about their resolve to crack down on the growing ISI presence there. So we took steps to tighten our security along the border," a senior army officer said.
This has resulted in reducing infiltration across the Nepalese border in the last couple of years, the army claims. But that has not prevented the ISI from going ahead with its activities in Kathmandu. With the increase in the Indian Army and paramilitary presence at the international border and the Line of Control along Pakistan through out the last decade, the ISI shifted its focus to the northeastern parts of India. All through, Kathmandu remained one of the favourite cities of the ISI.
The state intelligence agencies of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have been continuously warning the Union government about the smuggling in of counterfeit notes, among other things, from Nepal. Sources in the directorate of revenue intelligence claim that the ISI has been concentrating on 500 and 100 rupee denominations.
In fact, when Sunder Singh Bhandari was the governor of Bihar, he had submitted several reports to the Union home ministry claiming that Bihar was becoming a nerve centre of ISI activists operating from Kathmandu. One reason for Bhandari's demanding the dismissal of the Laloo Prasad Yadav government was the ISI activities in the state.
The ISI's activities in Nepal got a major boost from narcotics, according to Military Intelligence sources. Kathmandu is a transit point in the golden triangle. In the past there have been seizures in India of narcotics smuggled in from Nepal which were on their way to international clients.
Though the Islamic Salvation Front which has claimed responsibility for the hijacking may not be an organisation with any substantial following, the fact that they want to stick to Kandahar proves that they have links to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, intelligence sources believe.
"The very fact that last night they tried to land at Kandahar, and their return to the nondescript airport in the south west of Afghanistan today gives a very clear clue of the links of the hijackers, or at least of their hopes," a senior Indian intelligence agency official said. Kandahar is close to the base of Osama bin Laden.
Laden, whose extradition to the United States was demanded by the United Nations Security Council and was rejected by the Taliban, is currently married to the daughter of one of its senior leaders. Kandahar is a key region of his operations, and he has refused to move out of this region despite the American missile attacks on his base.
Intelligence agency sources point out that a desperate Laden may go out of his way to assist the hijackers as he is trying to build up an international network of Islamic terrorists. "Taliban has refused to hand him over even after the recent UN sanctions, so it is hardly a possibility that the Afghan rulers will give in to Indian demands to act against the hijackers by overruling Osama," a senior Afghan specialist of the army said.
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