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Why Pakistan may have jettisoned Yasin Bhatkal

Last updated on: August 30, 2013 10:21 IST

ANALYSIS: Why Pakistan may have jettisoned Yasin Bhatkal

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Colonel (retd) Anil Athale in Pune

It seems that like in the late 1980s, Pakistan feels that its support to the IM is giving diminishing returns and they have decided to jettison them. It is not unlikely that an American nudge and pressure to do this has been a significant factor in all these happenings, says Colonel (retd) Anil Athale

The arrest of Yasin Bhatkal, the alleged terrorist mastermind and co-founder of the Indian Mujahideen, from the India-Nepal border on August 29 is good news. One is not naive to think that this will mean the end of IM, but certainly it could mean at least the beginning of the end.

The IM reportedly came into existence to avenge the deaths of 800 odd co-religionists in the Gujarat riots of 2002. After murdering over 1,350 people, mostly in bomb blasts over last 11 years, the Indian Mujahideen seemed to be losing steam. It tried to whip up sentiments in India over the riots in Myanmar (Burma) and Assam but was not very successful. But most crucially, the IM seems to be losing the support of its patron and backer Pakistan and some other mid-eastern countries.

The curious circumstances under which Abdul Karim Tunda was arrested on the Indo-Nepal border raised more questions than answers. At the ripe age of 70, Tunda appeared to be a spent force. Within days of his arrest, he was operated at the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences hospital and fitted with a pacemaker (all at the cost of the Indian taxpayer). It almost seemed like he had come for ‘medical tourism’ as many Pakistanis do. 

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'Tunda, Bhatkal arrested with active co-operation of Pakistan'

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Anyone who has studied the insurgency in the north-east is well aware how old insurgents used to ‘surrender’ and live a peaceful retired life, all choreographed by the rebel outfits themselves. But then Tunda has been quickly followed by Yasin Bhatkal, one of the founders of IM and brother of Riyaz, the bomb-maker. He again has been ‘found’ on the Indo-Nepal border.

The Indian security agencies have promised many more arrests in future. If this is to come true then it would mean a significant change in the Pakistani attitude towards terrorist outfits in India. Pakistani in no stranger to ‘renditions’ of terrorist suspects to foreign countries.

Several fugitives wanted by the United States, United Kingdom and China have been arrested in Pakistan and handed over to the other countries. This was however never done in case of wanted fugitives of Indian origin. It is reasonable to surmise that both Tunda and Bhatkal have been arrested with the active co-operation/involvement of Pakistan.

What has prompted this change if any? Two things stand out; one, the recently elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made no bones about his intention to normalise relations with India. But the tension on the LoC in Kashmir put a spoke in his efforts. Even the hawkish army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani is on record of having identified domestic terrorism as the biggest threat to Pakistan. 

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Image: Pakitsan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani


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'Old tactic of good terrorist versus bad terrorist is no longer viable'

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While the Indian media and people were obsessed with the LoC happenings, it has escaped our notice that Pakistan suffered a bloody month of Ramzan. Over 100 people were killed during the holy month along with a major strike in which a senior army and police officer also became victims. Most Pakistanis now accept that the old tactic of ‘good terrorist versus bad terrorist’ is no longer viable. If the Pakistani authorities continue to hand over the wanted Indian terrorists, it would be a first!

Given the domestic opinion in Pakistan, that government will never openly acknowledge this. Neither will they hand over Kashmiri terror suspects. But other than these two exceptions, the other Indians sheltering in Pakistan may well be handed over to India. It seems that their usefulness to Pakistan has ended.

Digressing from the main theme, one wishes to recall a very profound observation of the late Mizo leader Pu Laldenga. While talking to this author in 1988, he mentioned how the Mizos realised that they were pawns in the hands of the Chinese. The Chinese support to north-eastern rebels ebbed and flowed as per Chinese national interests. Having realised this, the rebels felt that it was better to seek accommodation with India. The IM fugitives in Pakistan may well be learning this lesson in Pakistan.

There is a precedent for this kind of action. In the 1980s, it was an open secret that Pakistanis were supporting the Khakistani terrorists (some of the top leaders are still holed up in that country). But in late 1988, under late Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan changed track and began to ‘leak’ out information about them to Indian agencies. The year 1989 onwards there was an unexplained spurt in killing of the terrorists.

It is another matter that in public perception some individual police officers hogged the credit for this and became counter-terrorism gurus. It seems that like in the late 1980s, Pakistan feels that its support to the IM is giving diminishing returns and they have decided to jettison them. It is very doubtful though if they will ever let go of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim and his gang, as they would like to keep that as a ‘threat in being’ to ensure India keeps its side of the bargain. 

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Image: Paramilitary soldiers guard near the main entrance of the Minhas in the town of Kamra in Punjab province
Photographs: Mian Khursheed/Reuters

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'It may well be the beginning of the end for the IM'

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It is not unlikely that an American nudge and pressure to do this has been a significant factor in all these happenings. But it must be acknowledged that when it comes to their national interests, Pakistanis are known to play hard-ball, unlike Indians. The current Egyptian, Syrian and Turkish crisis coming to head when the Americans are to begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan may also have acted as a spur for American activism.

Finally, with Indian economy in a tailspin of its own making, the Indians also will be willing to toe the American line on Pakistan. It seems that the Indian government is laying the groundwork for the September meeting between Sharif and Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly. This may well be followed by the visit by the Indian PM to Pakistan early in 2014. This will fit in well with his desires and the ruling party’s plans to milk this for its electoral success in May 2014.

But whatever be the rationale, it may well be ‘the beginning of the end’ for IM as mentioned earlier. Indians could in decades look forward to a peaceful festive season -- provide this analysis is near the mark.

There is of course a major danger of these peace moves leading to frustration in some jihadi outfits in Pakistan. These are not in the control of the government and may well strike out in India to sabotage the peace that Sharif desires. 




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