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VII: Another viewpoint
VIII: The ambassador speaks
Josy Joseph in Kathmandu
In 1972, a few months after the liberation of Bangladesh, two Pakistani army officers, who were arrested in the preceding year's Indo-Pak war, escaped from Ranchi jail. They reached Kathmandu by land, and flew from there flew into Bangkok, proceeding from there to Karachi.
During their debriefing, the duo -- one of them is believed to have been a member of the last Nawaz Sharief cabinet -- told their masters about how open the India-Nepal border is, and how easy it is, as a stranger, to move around in Kathmandu.
This opened a new world of possibilities to Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence directorate, which decided to organise operations from Kathmandu too.
The Pakistan embassy, which used to have only about two or three employees till 1974-75, was suddenly beefed up. And the newcomers were usually ISI undercover agents, deputed as diplomatic staff, non-diplomatic staff such as clerks, peons, and even drivers.
Today, the Pakistani embassy in Kathmandu, with 25 employees, including eight diplomatic staff, is one of the largest Pakistani missions in the region. According to some reliable sources, 14 of these 25 staffers are ISI personnel.
Reigning over the ISI operations and planning the disbursement of the huge funds made available for its activities is a soft-spoken frequenter of the casinos, Ejaz Hussain Minhas, the counsellor (political wing).
But the man running the day-to-day operations is Mohammed Arshad Cheema, the first secretary (consular section), whose name figures not only in the files of Indian intelligence agencies, but also in the records of the Nepal police. For it was he who, on December 24, is alleged to have passed on a bag to the five hijackers of Indian Airlines Flight 814 minutes before they boarded the aircraft.
This is not the first time Cheema's hand has been seen in subversive activity. In November 1998, Sikh militant Lakhbir Singh, who was arrested from the Valley View Hotel with 19 kilograms of RDX, revealed during interrogation that it was Cheema who supplied him the explosive. He also named Minhas and Asam Saboor, an upper division clerk at the embassy. Last week, Saboor was expelled from Nepal for openly selling fake Indian currency of Rs 500 denomination in Kathmandu.
At the Pak embassy, Saboor was an important player. Though he was officially designated only as an upper division clerk, officials senior to him greeted him in public and clearly held him in some awe. This is rather uncommon behaviour in the diplomatic corps, where the pecking order tends to be rather rigid.
Saboor's bluff was called when he started supplying an undercover sub inspector of the Nepali police with fake Rs 500 notes.
Investigations reveal that the political wing, the consular section and most of the press and culture section at the Pak embassy are arms of the ISI. Cheema, a former 4 Punjab regiment officer of the Pakistan army, was dismissed from the army when, in 1991, he tried to settle a personal land dispute in his native village in Sialkot by deploying soldiers. He later joined the ISI, and rose to become the well-known figure he is in the Nepali underworld.
Cheema is alleged to the chief operator in the fake currency racket. The Nepal police had zeroed in on him, and but for a last-minute lack of co-ordination, could have nabbed him. The local police allege that Zafar Abbas Shah, an UDC in the political wing, is also involved in the fake currency racket.
The logic behind the fake Rs 500 note was simple: since the note is not legal tender in Nepal, distribution of fake versions is not illegal.
The fake notes began but recently. But since the early 1980s the ISI has been using Kathmandu as a base to support Sikh and Kashmiri militants. Four ISI officials arrested in India in April 1992 had revealed that the ISI used Nepal to organize meetings between the ISI and militant leaders.
The ISI also used the porous Nepal-India border to infiltrate its agents, and one of its key recruiting agents, Mohammed Sharief, admitted this in the early 1990s.
During interrogation, Samer Khan, chief commander of Al Inquilab, had revealed that the Pakistan embassy in Kathmandu actively funded anti-India operations as part of the K-2 (Kashmiri-Khalistani) project. He also said he got all operational assistance from Kalimullah, the embassy's second secretary at the time.
Parvez Afzal, a former counsellor at the Pakistan embassy in Nepal, continued to visit Kathmandu even after his official assignment ended there. In May 1991, he met Sikh extremist leaders from both India and UK. Soon after that meeting, on July 23, the Nepalese customs confiscated a diplomatic consignment of the North Korean embassy that contained 40 walkie-talkie sets and some gold.
The second secretary at the North Korean embassy told the authorities that the consignment was to be handed to Parvez Afzal at the Pakistan embassy.
Colonel Farooq, a key ISI officer organizing anti-India operations, often visits the Nepali capital. Farooq, along with Tiger Memon and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Bilal Ahmed Beg, had plotted the Lajpat Nagar bomb blast in May 1996 that claimed 20 lives. Beg, heading a revamped JKLF, put up the cadres who executed the blasts at a safe house in Thamel, Kathmandu. Beg is now in Pakistan.
On November 29, 1996, Salim, an ISI operator in Kathmandu, handed 20 kg of explosives to one Fayaz Ahmed Shah, who was arrested in New Delhi, following an alert from the Nepal police. He was supposed to execute a major blast in Delhi on Republic Day.
Yet another Pakistani national, Mohammed Shakeel Siddiqui, fled from Nepal, leaving behind a bag of RDX. The Nepali police trailed him into Indian territory, where he was finally nabbed by the Delhi police. He was to carry out a blast inside the World Trade Centre in Bombay.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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