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How Pakistan used funds collected from Kashmiri students to grease terrorism

How Pakistan used funds collected from Kashmiri students to grease terrorism

The Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police has cracked a racket of ‘terror funding’ through admission of the Kashmiri students in Pakistan’s medical and engineering college.

With the arrest of six persons, including a militant-turned-separatist activist, who had also been provided a security cover by the J&K Police, the CIK claims that a part of the money collected from the beneficiary students was being used on implementation of the programmes of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

According to the information on which the CIK registered a case in July 2020, “some unscrupulous persons including some Hurriyat leaders were hand in glove with some educational consultancies” and were selling MBBS and other professional degree seats in Pakistani colleges to the Kashmiri students. Part of the money collected from the clients was used “to support and fund terrorism and separatism in different ways”.

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The CIK has announced the identification and arrest of six key characters of the network operating in Kashmir and different cities in Pakistan.

Those arrested include Zaffar Akbar Bhat of Usmania Colony, Bagh-e-Mehtab, Srinagar, and his brother Altaf Ahmad Bhat, who had been operating from Behria Town of Karachi, Pakistan.

After working as Hizbul Mujahideen’s ‘District Commander’ for Budgam and ‘Divisional Commander’ for Central Kashmir for several years, Bhat had launched his own ‘Salvation Movement’ and claimed to be a political activist. Apparently for siding with the Hizbul Mujahideen rebel Abdul Majeed Dar, militants shot dead Bhat’s brother Abdul Gani Bhat. Soon he bought peace with the militants who killed Majeed Dar and all of his loyalists but spared Bhat.

Bhat managed to plant his brother Altaf in Pakistan where he handled the operation of admitting the Kashmiri students in different Pakistani colleges in exchange for huge amounts of money which was partly used on terror funding in Kashmir. The CIK has discovered that the Pakistani agency had got a particular quota of MBBS, BE and B Tech seats allotted to some Kashmiri separatist leaders.

The Kashmiri separatist leaders allegedly utilised their yearly quota for over 20 years while managing admission of their own family members and close relatives for free. However, they allegedly charged Rs 10 lakh to Rs Rs 12 lakh per seat from other clients who approached them for admission in Pakistan’s medical, engineering and other professional colleges.

Under ISI’s direction, Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi would issue visa and other travel documents to the students recommended by the Kashmiri separatist leaders and their contacts like Altaf Bhat would manage the hassle-free admission of these clients in some particular colleges in Pakistan.

Interestingly, while operating this network, Zaffar Akbar Bhat was also categorised as a protected person and four armed guards were allotted to him from the J&K Police. There are allegations from several quarters that even some officers of the J&K Police and civil administration grabbed MBBS seats for their own sons, daughters and other relatives from the same separatists’ quota.

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Early this year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, on communications from J&K Government, has fully frozen this operation and none of the students, who had returned to home during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been permitted to go back to Pakistan to continue studies. According to the allegations, around 1,000 Kashmiri students have ‘purchased’ MBBS, B Tech and other professional seats from the separatists for anything between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 30 lakh each.

Other identified and arrested by the CIK include Mohammad Abdullah Shah of Kulpora Salkote, Kupwara, and his brother Manzoor Ahmad Shah, who had been operating from Gulmohar Colony, Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Fatima Shah wife of Nisar Ahmad Shah of Palhalan Pattan, living in Nundrishi Colony of Bemina in Srinagar, and Sabzar Ahmad Sheikh of Nowgam, Shangas, Anantnag.

According to the CIK, two more of the accused, who crossed over to Pakistan and settled there in early 1990s, “played a key role on behalf of ISI in facilitating matter pertaining to admissions under this category for this set of Hurriyat linked persons on Indian side" and were "part of nefarious design of pumping money into the militancy and other terrorist related activities".

"During investigation it surfaced that MBBS and other professional degree related seats in many cases were preferentially given to those students who were close family members or relatives of killed terrorists. There were also cases where the quota allotted to individual Hurriyat leaders were sold to anxious parents desiring to obtain MBBS and other professional degrees in one way or the other," the CIK said.

The CIK said that more than 80 cases pertaining to the seats in academic years between 2014 and 2018 were studied in which either the students or their parents were examined. Besides, searches of about a dozen premises in the valley had been undertaken to look for evidence of collection of money and its further usage.

“Evidence also came on record to show that money had been variously put into channels that ended up in supporting programmes and projects pertaining to terrorism and separatism. For example, payment for organizing stone pelting also could also be traced and brought on record”, the CIK asserted.

"On the basis of available evidence, a conservative estimate indicated that the money involved could be around Rs 4 crore per annum, on the basis of the fact that allocation of seats for distribution by individual Hurriyat leaders were around 40 seats for MBBS programme every year. It could be more. This aspect is still open and a matter of further investigation”, said the statement.

The investigation, as per the CIK, also revealed that both at the time of collecting the money from the parents as well as channelling it for use by terrorists and separatists, intermediaries were used to layer the transactions. "For example, in some cases money was received through educational consultancies to conceal the end-use”, the agency concluded.