Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, while talking to some TV channels in New Delhi, hoped India will share the outcome of the probe into the Samjhauta Express blast before the March 6 meeting of the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism so that ‘meaningful contribution’ can be made to the fight against terror.
Asked whether the intelligence agencies of the two countries could work together, he said, ‘They will have to if South Asia is to live in a civilised manner.’ He added that if both the governments ‘put their weight behind’ such an endeavour, it will work. ‘After all, both countries have suffered. It’s your territory but majority of them are from Pakistan,’ Kasuri said, and asked, ‘Why shouldn’t it work?’
Apparently, Mr Kasuri is not aware that an exercise towards regular intelligence cooperation between Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and India’s Research and Analysis Wing was initiated when Gen Zia-ul-Haq was the President of Pakistan and Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India. This exercise, which started well with promising results, ended in a flop due to an act of perfidy by Lt Gen Hamid Gul, who was the Director-General of the ISI in the late 1980s, not only towards R&AW, but also towards Mrs Benazir Bhutto, the duly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan between 1988 and 1990.
These are the facts of the case: In the 1980s, the Khalistani terrorist movement was at its height. The ISI was training and arming the terrorists. It had given shelter to terrorists of the Dal Khalsa, who had hijacked Indian planes to Lahore. Whenever the Government of India raised this issue with the Government of Pakistan, the latter denied the presence of any training camps or of the hijackers in Pakistani territory.
In June 1985, Rajiv Gandhi went to the US on a state visit at the invitation of President Ronald Reagan. The Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered a plot by Lal Singh alias Manjit Singh of the International Sikh Youth Federation to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi during his stay in the US. Before they could arrest him, Lal Singh, who was a permanent resident of Canada, escaped to Lahore and was given shelter there by the ISI.
In the same month, June 1985, the Babbar Khalsa of Canada, headed by Talwinder Singh Parmar, planted an improvised explosive device in the luggage hold of Kanishka, an Air India aircraft, before it left Toronto for India. The IED exploded off the Irish coast. All the passengers and crew of the plane perished. Parmar, after having organised this, fled to Lahore and was given shelter there by the ISI. Lal Singh and Parmar lived in Lahore as the guests of the ISI from 1985 to 1992.
Every year, Sikh jathas from India visit Lahore to worship at the Nankana Sahib. Many members of the jathas used to report to the Indian intelligence agencies on their return that Lal Singh and Parmar used to meet them and appeal to them to support the Khalistan movement. Whenever the Government of India took up with the Government of Pakistan the question of arresting and handing over the Dal Khalsa hijackers, Lal Singh and Parmar, the stock reply from the Pakistani Foreign Office was that they were not in Pakistani territory. Requests made by India through the Interpol also did not produce any results.
The then Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan was a good personal friend of Rajiv Gandhi and Zia. Hassan’s wife was of Pakistani origin, and he had known Zia from the days when he was a middle level officer, and was posted in Amman as the commanding officer of a Pakistan army unit based there. He contacted Zia and Rajiv Gandhi separately and suggested that the chiefs of the ISI and R&AW should meet secretly and discuss these issues away from the glare of publicity instead of levelling open allegations against each other. He offered to arrange the first meeting at Amman. His offer was accepted and he arranged a meeting at Amman between Lt Gen Hamid Gul and A K Verma, who was the head of R&AW. He introduced the two to each other and then disappeared from the scene. The two had two meetings — the first at Amman and the second at Geneva. The atmosphere in the two meetings was positive. The agenda included not only the question of stopping the ISI’s support to the Khalistani terrorists and handing over the terrorists given shelter in Pakistan, but also ways of solving the Siachen issue.
While there was progress in the discussions on the Siachen issue because the Pakistan Army was keen to have the Indian Army withdrawn from there, on the terrorism issue Lt Gen Gul took up the standard position that the Sikh terrorists wanted by India were not in Pakistani territory.
However, through a carefully worked-out operation, he enabled the Indian authorities to get the custody of four Sikh soldiers of the Indian army who had deserted while they were posted in Jammu and Kashmir and sought sanctuary in Pakistan. He wanted the operation organised in such a manner that it would not appear that the ISI had handed over these deserters to R&AW. R&AW agreed to this and kept its word of honour to Lt Gen Gul that it would not tell the media about it.
When this exercise for a dialogue between the ISI and R&AW started, Zia-ul-Haq was in power. He was killed in a plane crash in August 1988. Following the elections to the Pakistan National Assembly held a few weeks later, Benazir Bhutto took over as the Prime Minister after she accepted three conditions imposed by the Pakistan Army: First, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg would continue as the Chief of the Army Staff; second, Lt Gen Gul would continue as the ISI chief; and third, Pakistan’s nuclear establishment headed by Dr A Q Khan would work directly under Gen Beg. It would not report to Benazir. Crown Prince Hassan as well as Lt Gen Gul kept her informed of the exercise for a dialogue with R&AW. She agreed that it should continue.
Some months after Benazir took over, Lt Gen Gul, without consulting her, organised a raid on Najibullah’s Afghan Army post at Jalalabad with the help of Afghan Mujahideen, Osama bin Laden’s Arab followers and Pakistani ex-servicemen. The raiding party managed to surround the Jalalabad post for some days. Everybody thought they would ultimately capture Jalalabad and that would be the beginning of the end of the rule of Najibullah. It did not happen that way. Najibullah’s Army post managed to repulse the raiders, inflicting heavy casualties.
Benazir took advantage of this fiasco, which was the creation of Lt Gen Gul, to have him replaced as the Chief of the ISI by Maj Gen Shamshur Rehman Kallue, a retired officer, who was close to her father and had been very loyal to the Bhutto family. After taking over, Kallue abolished the political division of the ISI, then headed by Brig Imtiaz. It was responsible for keeping a watch on Pakistani political leaders and civilian bureaucrats and also for assisting the Khalistan movement.
On the advice of Lt Gen Gul, Nawaz Sharif, who was then the chief minister of Punjab, took Imtiaz into the Special Branch of the Punjab police to continue the ISI’s operation for assisting the Khalistani movement. Lt Gen. Gul had a message sent to all Khalistani leaders that in future they should contact Imtiaz in the Punjab Special Branch for any assistance and not Kallue.
Lt Gen Gul also leaked to Nawaz Sharif and some members of the media the information about the handing over of four Sikh deserters to India. He did not admit that he did it. He alleged that Benazir, who was in close touch with Rajiv Gandhi, did it despite his strong opposition. There was a big campaign mounted by the Pakistan Muslim League, then headed by Nawaz Sharif, against her on this issue.
Lt Gen Gul also told her detractors that Kallue, on her orders, had handed over to R&AW some files of the ISI on the Khalistani leaders. Benazir Bhutto was accused of being an R&AW agent and of betraying the Khalistan movement. Embarrassed by these allegations, Benazir asked Kallue for the files relating to Lt Gen Gul’s meetings with Verma. After checking, he reported to her that there were no papers on the subject in the ISI headquarters.
Benazir’s close friendship with Rajiv Gandhi, her alleged links with R&AW and her alleged betrayal of the Khalistan movement were some of the secret charges used by Ghulam Ishaq Khan, the then President, to dismiss her in August 1990, at the instance of Gen Beg and Lt Gen Gul.
Towards the end of 1990, Chandra Shekhar took over as the Prime Minister of India, with the support of the Congress, after VP Singh lost a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha. He took Vidya Charan Shukla, formerly of the Congress, as his foreign minister. Through an intermediary, Rajiv Gandhi had a message conveyed to Chandra Shekhar about the meetings between Hamid Gul and Verma held at the initiative of Crown Prince Hassan and the progress made on the Siachen issue.
Rajiv Gandhi suggested to Chandra Shekhar that this dialogue should be revived. Chandra Shekhar agreed and took up the matter with Nawaz Sharif, who had in the meanwhile taken over as the newly-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. After some weeks, Nawaz Sharif replied through a diplomat of the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi that there were no papers on this subject in the ISI and on being contacted, Lt Gen Gul totally denied having met Verma and discussed any issue with him. We were totally surprised by Gul’s denial.
R&AW prepared a summary of the discussions at the two meetings at Amman and Geneva and sent it to Nawaz Sharif through the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi. He was also told that if he had any doubts in view of Gul’s denial, he could check with Hassan, who had organised the dialogue.
Nawaz Sharif agreed to the resumption of the dialogue and a third meeting was held in Singapore between Lt Gen Assad Durrani, the then chief of the ISI, and GS Bajpai, the then chief of R&AW. Nothing came out of it. Durrani kept levelling allegations of R&AW’s interference in Sindh. It was a dialogue of the deaf. There ended the hopes of co-operation.
An analysis was made in the R&AW as to why Gul denied his talks with Verma. Our conclusion was that since he and Beg had got Benazir dismissed on the charge that she had colluded with R&AW and betrayed the Khalistan movement, if he admitted that it was he who had the four Sikhs handed over to R&AW, that could make the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto in August 1990 mala fide in retrospect. Nawaz Sharif, who was a beneficiary of the dismissal, did not want to go deep into this either.
During the investigation into the Mumbai blasts of March 1993, the Indian intelligence collected conclusive evidence regarding the involvement of the ISI in the explosions. This evidence was given wide publicity and also brought to the notice of the American and Chinese intelligence officials by the R&AW as suggested by PV Narasimha Rao, the then prime minister. The CIA and the Chinese external intelligence, independently of each other and without each knowing of the offer made by the other, offered to organise a dialogue between R&AW and the ISI so that the heads of the two organisations could discuss the matter away from the glare of publicity.
Narasimha Rao rejected both these offers. He said: ‘R&AW has been having a relationship with the CIA for 25 years. It has not been able to get its cooperation in counter-terrorism. Before suggesting to us counter-terrorism cooperation with Pakistan, let the US first cooperate sincerely with us in counter-terrorism.
We know how Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto deceived Indira Gandhi at Shimla. He made an oral promise to work for the conversion of the Line of Control into the international border. After getting his soldiers back, he totally denied making any such promise to her. Now Hamid Gul is even denying meeting and discussing Siachen with Verma. It will be a dangerous illusion to think anything will come out of cooperation between the ISI and the R&AW.
Let us not commit the same mistake again and again.’ Narasimha Rao said no formal reply need be sent to the US and China on their offer. ‘Let them guess from our silence that we are not in favour of it.’ You would now understand, I hope, why there is not much enthusiasm in India to the idea of a Joint Mechanism for Counter-Terrorism Cooperation. They say once bitten, twice shy. India has been bitten thrice — after the Shimla talks between Indira Gandhi and ZA Bhutto; after the meetings between Verma and Hamid Gul; and after the meeting between AB Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif at Lahore in February 1999.
Mr Foreign Minister, Pakistan has handed over so many terrorism suspects to the US and other countries. Forget about terrorists. Can you recall even a single instance where Pakistan has handed over even a cattle-lifter to India? Whenever India has asked Pakistan to hand over a terrorist or other criminal, Pakistan’s response has been that India has not been able to produce convincing evidence against him.
And whenever India has asked Pakistan to hand over a non-Muslim terrorist, Pakistan’s response has been: ‘Yes, we agree you have good evidence against him, but your information that he is in our territory is wrong.’ The handing-over of the Sikh army deserters is the only instance of such action by Pakistan that I can recall. I cannot understand even today why Gul did it. Was he planning to use them to collect military intelligence from India?
All Pakistan has to do to demonstrate its sincerity is to hand over some of the terrorists from India living in Pakistani territory before the first meeting of the Joint Counter-Terrorism Mechanism. It will have a big impact in India and many sceptics will start supporting the mechanism.