Narendra Modi in UAE: Pakistan ISI's funding of Kashmir terror via West Asia route remains concern for India

Yatish Yadav

In March 2001, a Pakistani national passed through the security barrier at Dubai airport carrying a bulky gear bag. As he walked awkwardly towards the boarding gate of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which bound to Peshawar, the overstuffed carry-on bag ripped revealing three AK 47 assault rifles. The airport security personnel cordoned the area, provided the Pakistani operative a new luggage to stuff the weapons, and safely escorted him to the waiting aircraft.

An Indian intelligence operative tailing the man immediately sent an encrypted cable to Delhi. The top echelon of Indian security establishment was appalled. The usual protests wrapped in diplomatic niceties were lodged with Dubai authorities. They did move officially to put a lid on military grade arms flowing from Dubai to Peshawar and Karachi. Five years later, the Kalashnikovs were replaced by wad of hundred dollar bills. The practice, however, said top intelligence officials, continues even today.

So, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, the country's top security managers accompanying him will face the daunting task of persuading Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed regime to snap Pakistan-Dubai terror financing cord which is partly funding militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. An investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) into the unhindered supply of cash to Kashmiri militants and separatists revealed that the funds generated from Dubai and Saudi Arabia are regularly routed to the Kashmir Valley with the help of a network of Hawala conduits in India and ISI officials based in Rawalpindi to finance the bloodbath in the strife torn state.

India has been silently working on various security issues with the UAE since Modi's last visit in 2015 and security agencies of both the countries are regularly sharing intelligence inputs on extremism. After Modi's 2015 visit, UAE had handed over Indian Mujahideen terrorist Abdul Wahid Siddibapa in May 2016. Since February 2002, at least 18 fugitives have been nabbed and extradited to India by the UAE authorities.

However, Pakistan's intelligence agency ISI, which has a vast fundraising network in the UAE and other West Asian countries, grows without any hindrance despite global pressure on the nation to choke terror funding. The NIA's recent chargesheet reiterates that funds are reaching the Valley from UAE and Saudi Arabia through Hawala via Delhi (Ballimaran, Chandani Chowk) and separatists depend heavily on these non-banking channels and conduits to bring money from abroad to India to fuel anti-India activities in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The Indian agencies will share the evidence with its UAE counterparts and will also request them to exert pressure on Pakistan to dismantle the terror fundraising network. So far, our experience with the UAE on the issue of terrorism and extremism has been more than satisfactory," a senior official from Security establishment said.

Amar Bhushan, former special secretary of Research and Analysis Wing told Firstpost that UAE and Saudi Arabia must disrupt powerful independent entities helping Pakistan's ISI in raising money to finance terror activities in Jammu and Kashmir.

"There is no control of government and security establishment on these powerful fringe groups in UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are now trying to contain the scale of terror financing but most of the Wahabi institutions are still running Pakistan operations. With the stepped up enforcement against terror fund flow, the Pakistan terror factories could be easily dismantled," Bhushan told Firstpost. The NIA probe also revealed that the ISI has established a Kashmir Committee within their intelligence set up, which is headed by a Brigadier-level officer. This special unit is responsible for strategic planning, fund raising, recruiting and training militants of terrorist organisations belonging to the United Jihad Council.

"The committee also coordinates with the representatives of the Hurriyat, which is based in Pakistan, by providing them with directions, instructions and commands to organise and intensify the secessionist agenda. Investigation has also revealed that the Kashmir Committee has prepared an elaborate strategy to provide regular funding to the separatist groups through different mechanisms on a periodic basis to fuel terrorism and other subversive activities as a part of their conspiracy to wage war against the Government of India," the anti-terror agency said.

The United Jihad Council also known as Muttahida Jihad Council is a conglomerate of various terrorist outfits active in Jammu and Kashmir. Formed in 1994, it is currently headed by Syed Salahuddin, who also heads the terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, and acts on the advice of Pakistani establishment in collusion with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, which has appointed a Pakistani national Ghulam Mohammed Shafi as a coordinator. Shafi, along with another Pakistani national Parvez Ahmad, liaised with the Pakistan authorities and convey the instructions of Pakistan government to Hurriyat leaders in the Valley and vice-versa.

NIA probe into terror funding

>Terror financing through the Line of Control trade

The NIA investigation has revealed an interesting modus operandi adopted by the separatist leaders in the Valley to finance terror and subversive activities. The investigation said the separatists have directed Kashmiri traders to do under-invoicing of the goods, which were imported through the Line of Control barter trade.

"They sell the goods to traders in Delhi and a part of the profit is shared with the Hurriyat leaders and other separatists. This money is used to finance anti-India propaganda, for mobilising the locals to organise protests and stone-pelting and to support families of killed or jailed militants. The Hawala operators based in Srinagar, New Delhi and other parts of the country and abroad are being used to transfer the funds so generated," the NIA said in its chargesheet.

The central counter-terror agency is separately probing the LoC trade terror route that is being exploited to funnel money to militant groups. It has observed that a significant number of traders engaged in cross-LoC trade have relatives across the border, who are closely associated with Hizbul Mujahideen. Certain ex-militants and their family members are using proxy companies and the trade route is being used for smuggling of contraband and weapons.

The terror cash is also generated by sale of third-party goods, under-weighing, under-invoicing, large-scale dealings in cash and committing irregularities in maintenance of records. This modus operandi leads to generation of huge cash surpluses on the Indian side, which are then channeled through several formal banking channels, as well as, cash couriers and Hawala dealers to the separatists. Besides, the network is also heavily dependent on local donations to operate terror cells in the valley.

The investigating agency said there are district presidents and block-level leaders who have the responsibility to raise the funds through donation during the religious festivals and month of Ramzan. Investigation also established that various district presidents collect Rs 5 lakh to 10 lakh per district as baitulmal. Funds are also collected from apple growers and businessmen, who are compelled to donate to Hurriyat Central Office. This money is used for administrative and operational purposes to organise protests and strikes, as well as, given as aidto militants and their families.

>Role of Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan

The NIA investigation revealed that students leaving for Pakistan on student Visa were either relatives of active militants or linked to the families of ex-militants.

The agency concluding its probe said, "Their (students) applications for Visa were recommended by various Hurriyat leaders including Tehreek-e-Hurriyat Chairman SAS Geelani to the High Commission of Pakistan. Further militants/ex-militants who fled to Pakistan would pursue their admission cases with the concerned medical colleges with the help of Hurriyat leaders based in Pakistan. These students, who are recommended for allotment of MBBS seats and engineering seats in Pakistan are also offered scholarships under various schemes of the Pakistan government. This shows a triangular nexus wherein the terrorists, the Hurriyat and the Pakistani establishment are three vertices and they are ostensibly patronizing the Kashmiri students in order to prepare a generation of doctors and technocrats in Kashmir who will have leanings towards Pakistan. A document was seized from accused Nayeem Khan, a resident of Parrypora, Srinagar, wherein he recommended a student for admission in 'Standard Medical College' in Pakistan, because her family had remained committed to the freedom struggle through thick and thin." View More