India ordered assassinations in Pakistan by agent pretending to be journalist – report

Intelligence officials in prime minister’s office allegedly cited Jamal Khashoggi’s murder: ‘If Saudis can do this, why not us?’

Shweta Sharma
Friday 05 April 2024 14:37 BST
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The Indian government has denied allegations that operatives of its federal spy agency assassinated nearly 20 wanted criminals in Pakistan since 2020.

The assassinations in Pakistan were carried out by sleeper cells operated out of the UAE by the Indian spy agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), in line with an “emboldened approach to national security after 2019”, the Guardian reported, quoting intelligence officials of the two nations.

The latest claims lend credence to allegations by the US and Canada that New Delhi has been plotting killings in foreign countries, a claim categorically denied by New Delhi.

The covert operations needed “approval from the highest level of government” and were reportedly inspired by the tactics of Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies, the report said.

RAW is controlled by the office of the prime minister. Indian PM Narendra Modi is seeking a third term in elections that start later this month.

The Indian Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations as “false and malicious anti-India propaganda”.

India has previously been accused by the US and Canada of plotting to assassinate leaders of the separatist Khalistan movement, which seeks to carve out an independent state for the Sikhs in India. The two nations have even launched separate investigations.

Protesters gather outside an India’s consulate in Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the prospect of India’s involvement in the 2023 murder of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar (REUTERS)

According to the Guardian, RAW conducted the assassinations in Pakistan through a “murder-for-hire scheme” and paid millions of rupees for each.

In the case of a Kashmiri militant’s killing, a woman RAW handler allegedly pretended to be a New York Post journalist to confirm the target’s identity after receiving information about his location and movements in Pakistan. Zahid Akhund, wanted for the 1999 hijacking of an Air India flight to Afghanistan, was shot dead on 1 March 2022 in Karachi.

“Are you Zahid? I am a journalist from the New York Post,” the RAW handler messaged Akhund. According to the Guardian, he responded: “For what u r messaging me?”

Two Indian intelligence officials told the newspaper that RAW shifted its focus to dissidents outside India after the deadly Pulwama attack in 2019. The attack in Jammu and Kashmir, which left nearly 40 Indian paramilitary personnel dead, was claimed by Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed.

“After Pulwama, the approach changed to target the elements outside the country before they are able to launch an attack or create any disturbance,” an Indian intelligence operative said.

“We could not stop the attacks because ultimately their safe havens were in Pakistan, so we had to get to the source.”

Indian security men inspect the site of the Pulwama attack in 2019 (EPA)

The operative said the top brass of RAW cited the murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2018, to push for their own assassination campaign on foreign soil.

He said there was chatter in the prime minister’s office after Khashoggi’s murder and one official asked, “If Saudis can do this, why not us?”

In October last year, Jaish-e-Mohammed commander Shahid Latif was killed after several failed attempts by an illiterate 20-year-old Pakistani allegedly recruited by RAW from an Amazon packaging warehouse in UAE.

He was paid 1.5m Pakistani rupees (£4,000) by an undercover agent to locate Latif and promised 15m rupees if he finished the job. The man was arrested along with accomplices after he killed Latif in a mosque in Sialkot.

Assassinations of Bashir Ahmad Peer, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, and Saleem Rehmani, a top Indian fugitive, were allegedly orchestrated from the UAE, with evidence of millions in payments found in Dubai, previously reported as a suspected armed robbery.

This is not the first time such allegations have emerged.

In January, Pakistani foreign secretary Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi accused the Indian government of carrying out a “sophisticated and sinister” plot of “extraterritorial and extrajudicial killings” in his country.

He claimed Islamabad had credible evidence that the Indian government was responsible for two assassinations on Pakistani soil.

Indian Foreign Ministry officials told The Independent they have issued no statement following the report and referred to previous rebuttal to the Pakistani foreign secretary’s allegations.

India and Pakistan have a long history of animosity and have fought three major wars while accusing each other of fighting a proxy war in the restive Kashmir region.

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