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Whither Jail Administration

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Guest Punjabi Nationalist

Wasnt sure whether to put this in the news section or here, so....


Whither Jail Administration

K.P.S. Gill

Details of the scandalous escape of three of the accused in the assassination of Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, from the Burail Jail at Chandigarh last month, are still emerging, and the complete subversion of the Jail administration has been established beyond doubt. To the extent that incidents of escape have been reported in the past weeks from Tihar Jail at Delhi and the Danapur Jail in Bihar, as also gross irregularities in the extraordinary facilities provided to ‘VIP’ criminals in some of UP’s Jails, it is clear that Jail administration in the country has been enormously corrupted and is in urgent need for reform. The media is rightly focusing on these issues, but has, in the process, tended to ignore far more disturbing signals that emerge from the Burail jailbreak.

The escape of three committed terrorists involved in one of the country’s most high profile political assassinations is not something that was simply worked out between corrupt jail staffers and the conspiring prisoners. Vast sums of money, as well as a pattern of internal and external intimidation would have been required to create the conditions for the eventual breakout, and a significant network of support would also be needed to ensure that the escapees could evade the police dragnet once they were out. There is some evidence that the jailbreak was arranged as part of a conspiracy that involved US based elements of the Babbar Khalsa International and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, whose coordinators provided funds and arranged communications between the terrorists and their mentors in Pakistan. Simply put, it is clear that, despite the apparent absence of terrorist violence in Punjab, a surviving network of terrorism and of its supporters and sympathisers continues to exist, both within the State, and outside the country.

It is, of course, true that the ideology that inspired a decade and a half of terrorism in Punjab has been entirely rejected by the masses, and there can be no revival of the scale and intensity of terrorism that afflicted the State through the 1980s and the early 1990s. It is nevertheless, necessary to realize that, given modern technologies of destruction, it takes very few to initiate or revive a lethal and substantially disruptive terrorist movement, particularly when strong support structures for such movements exist abroad.

Despite the complete absence of popular support, it may be recalled, Pakistan was able to engineer a rash of bomb attacks on soft targets by Khalistani terrorists, which killed 55 persons between March 14 and July 10, 1997. The scope for such mischief, though it constitutes no immediate and overwhelming threat to the security of the state, is substantial, and can a cause tragic loss of civilian lives. Even today, several Khalistani terrorist leaders and some of their cadres continue to be provided safe haven in Pakistan in the expectations that domestic circumstances would, at some point, create the opportunities for the revival of terrorism in Punjab. These include, Lakhbir Singh Rode of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), Paramjit Singh Panjwar, Chief of the Khalistan Commando Force – Panjawar faction (KCF-P), Gajinder Singh, Chairman, Khalistan Commando force, Ranjit Singh Neeta of the Khalistan Zindabad Force, and Wadhawa Singh Babbar of the Babbar Khalsa International. At no stage has Pakistan given up in its efforts to revive the militancy in Punjab, and, for instance, over the past five years, at least five tunnels have been discovered across the international border, cutting under the elaborate border fence, to facilitate infiltration into the State. The ISI is also known to have designed an automatic folding ladder to cross over the fence, and has specific plans to encourage infiltration of trained terrorists into the Punjab. There is also information that, in the absence of Sikh recruits, Pakistan has taken to recruiting Pakistani Punjabi Muslims, and familiarizing them with Sikh culture, to collaborate with the various Sikh militant groups currently hosted in Pakistan. There is also some intelligence on the training of Sikh youth by the ISI at huge private farmhouses in Muscat, Thailand, Dubai and Iran. Reports were also received regarding efforts by the ISI to help the BKI and the KCF-P establish bases in China, but these initiatives were reportedly thwarted by the Chinese, who were not enthused by the project.

The problem does not end with Pakistan. The ‘defeated rump’ of Khalistani terrorist organisations has been widely dispersed across the world, and continues to engage in a range of activities, including propaganda, international political mobilisation, mobilisation of funds, and recruitment. Despite the events of 9/11 and the relatively hostile international environment for such enterprises, these activities continue to thrive. The BKI and the ISYF have now both been placed on the US list of terrorist organisations, but they continue to operate under different identities.

A significant number of listed Punjab terrorists are currently known to be residing in the US and Canada, and a number of ‘Khalistani’ front organisations are extremely active in lobbying, propaganda and mobilisation of funds. These organisations include the Council of Khalistan, headed by Gurmeet Singh Aulakh; the Khalistan Affairs Centre, headed by Amarjit Singh, who has a close association with the ISYF; the Sikh Youth of America, under the leadership of J.S. Kang, John Gill, Jasjit Singh Fauji, and others; the American Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, headed by Pritpal Singh, a terrorist who was involved in several operations, including the Ludhiana bank robbery; the Dal Khalsa International, coordinated by Ajit Singh Pannu; the Nankana Sahib foundation Trust, headed by Ganga Singh Dhillon, who was closely associated with the Pakistan Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee; and the World Sikh Organisation. Links between such elements and Sikh terrorist leaders in Pakistan have retained their vibrancy, and these have been consolidated through linkages between the American Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee and the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee. Linkages have also been forged between Kashmiri militant fronts in the US, and the Sikh Youth of America and Babbar Khalsa, with the latter organisations paying out sums of money to the Kashmiri groups to target individuals identified by the Sikh extremists.

A rash of similar organisations and activities extends across Europe. The two factions of the BKI (headed by Wadhawa Singh and Talwinder Singh Parmar, respectively) for instance, have a presence in UK, France, Norway, and Germany. In the UK, Mohan Singh Dhillon floated the Sikh Muslim Federation and was reported to have visited Pakistan to arrange meetings of Muslim militants of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) with Sikh militants, to wage a ‘guerrilla war’ against India. These activities and interactions are supported, encouraged and facilitated by the ISI. Top Khalistani terrorists in Indian jails maintain active contact with many of these foreign-based groups.

Complacency and the inability to pursue and punish those who engage in terrorist activities against the Indian state has been a chronic failure in this country, and there has been little sustained effort to bring to book the many listed terrorists and their associates who operate abroad. A revival of militancy in Punjab is improbable, but not impossible, and the Indian state must constantly guard against such a possibility. Bringing the guilty of the long years of terror to justice is a necessary element of such a defence. A state that fails persistently to punish even the worst of its criminals will eventually come to be ruled by them.

(Published in The Pioneer, February 21, 2004)

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