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Pak visits of J&K officers, students on radar as govt goes into deep-cleaning mode

Visits of Kashmiri students on Pak scholarships is now under the scanner

While investigating the involvement of a number of the Kashmiri separatist leaders in a scandal of admission of many students in Pakistan’s medical and engineering colleges, the Central and the Union Territory Government agencies are now also suspecting the involvements of a number of the retired and sitting officers of the Jammu and Kashmir Police and civil administration.

According to well-placed officials in the investigating agencies, a case of alleged terror-funding, which was originally investigated by Counter Intelligence Kashmir (CIK) wing of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, has been lately assigned to the Enforcement Directorate for “specialised professional investigation”. The decision of a “deeper professional investigation” was taken after the UT agency failed to establish charges against a particular module in which one Khalid Andrabi aka Khalid Geelani allegedly played a key role.

In December 2021, charges against Khalid Geelani under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act were dropped and in the CIK charge-sheet he was booked only under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code. It was decided that the ED would carry forward the CIK’s investigation and delve deep into the modus operandi in integration of the terror fund investments in the mainstream economy. The ED is now investigating as to how precisely the proceeds were generated, which channels were used for operationalization of the terror funds and why different law enforcement agencies had played as mute spectators for over 25 years.

The plethora of incriminating documents seized in a series of search operations include a letter written to a former President of the United States of America.

The investigators have observed that the Government of Pakistan, with the ISI, Army and Ministry of Foreign Affairs on board, used to allot a quota of different seats to Kashmir’s separatist leaders every year. Their first priority was their own kith and kin and the family members of the militants killed in encounters with security forces. It was a financial support to the leaders and militants fighting for Kashmir’s separation from India. It is believed money was not charged from beneficiaries of this particular category.

It has been noticed that two to three children of particular separatist families or militant commanders killed in encounters were given admission simultaneously in Pakistan’s professional colleges, particularly medical and engineering colleges. On return from Pakistan, they all got jobs in the J&K Government.

As per the modus operandi, actors of a network would facilitate everything from securing Indian Passports and Pakistani Visas to air, bus and rail tickets without any resistance from New Delhi or Srinagar. After accommodating their own kith and kith, the separatist leaders began selling these seats through touts to different aspirants against cash payments ranging between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 30 lakh each candidate.

The agencies are now using the most sophisticated technologies and forensic audit to find how these proceeds had been used in terror financing and personal luxuries of the operatives.

Significantly, the investigators have noticed that even the children, relatives and ‘clients’ of a number of the government officers in Police, civil administration and academia had been picked up in the ‘complimentary quota’. “It is being investigated where there was a quid pro quo or any amount of money was charged from these officers. Some of them have retired. Some are still in service. Now all of them are under scanner for their participatory role and dereliction of duty in this scandal”, said a highly placed officer.

The officer revealed that one of such beneficiary Police officers’ sons developed a life-consuming disease during the first wave of Covid-19 in Rawalpindi. After most of the students returned to Kashmir during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on a communication from the UT Government blocked their return to Pakistan. Subsequently, a notification was issued which invalidated the degrees from Pakistan’s medical and engineering colleges.

It has been noticed that a number of the youths from Jammu and Kashmir were taken to Pakistan through the same stream ostensibly for visits to divided families or studies but actually for indoctrination, guerrilla recruitment and arms training. It partly replaced the conventional system of sending recruits to Pakistan and PoK through LoC and other infiltration routes.

The security agencies have carried out a massive exercise of identifying youths who had crossed over to Pakistan on Indian passports and sneaked back into Jammu and Kashmir through the 724-km-long LOC.

The passports issued between 2015 and early 2018 have been scrutinised and it has been found that around 60 Kashmiri youths, who were later found active in terror ranks, had travelled to Pakistan on Indian passports and later joined terror ranks. They, according to officials, include Sajad Ahmad Sheikh, the son of a Srinagar-based doctor, who initially worked with a Central intelligence agency and was later taken over by the ISI. He is among the individuals designated as terrorists by the MHA and wanted in different terror related cases including the assassination of the journalist Shujaat Bukhari in June 2018.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh on information leading to the arrest of Gul who is allegedly operating TRF’s news and propaganda portal KashmirFight. Officials are citing interrogation reports of eight such Kashmiri youths who had joined the terror ranks, returned to Jammu and Kashmir through the LoC and had been subsequently arrested. As many as 26 such youths were killed in encounters with security forces.

Six of them, officials say, are still active in Kashmir, while four have been handed over to their families after they were not found involved in a heinous crime and helped the security agencies.

Citing interrogation reports of some of such youths, officials say the ISI was pressing its operatives to recruit cadre by whatever means. Some of the Kashmiri youths taken to Pakistan on Indian passports were given brief crash courses in handling of explosives and attacking targets with pistols in close range.

However, after the Jammu and Kashmir Police implemented a new regime with checks and balances, no undercover agent is known to have travelled to Pakistan on an Indian passport. Now all applicants’ involvement in any incident of terror crime or stone pelting is thoroughly checked. Officers scan CCTV footage, photographs, video and audio clips and drone images available in police station records. It all began after a militant, Shakir Altaf Bhat, killed in an encounter was found to have visited Pakistan for studies on Indian passports in 2018.

A number of such youths are known to have either stayed back in Pakistan or gone underground in the valley after their return through the LoC. “The missing youths are mainly from average middle-class families. They could be waiting for delivery of arms and ammunition which has been substantially choked due to heightened surveillance and intercepts”, said an official.

“There was a time when it was virtually free for all. Passports were issued to dreaded terrorists. Visas were issued on letters of Hurriyat leaders. Militants’ marriage parties travelled freely from Srinagar to Islamabad and back. Hizb operational chief Riyaz Rasool’s entire family travelled to Lahore on the second trip of (PM) Vajpayee’s bus Sada-e-Sarhad. Slain militant Aurangzeb’s widow was taken on an Indian passport from Srinagar to Islamabad for her second marriage with (Hizb chief) Salahuddin. That period is now over”, said an official. “Now it’s time to find out all their facilitators”.

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