January 2002 News

India protests airlift of Pak fighters from Kunduz, fears they will enter Kashmir

24 January 2002
The Indian Express

New York: India has protested to the US and Britain over Pakistan''s airlifting of its nationals and Taliban fighters after they were cornered in Kunduz during American action in Afghanistan, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra was quoted as saying. Diplomatic notes protesting the airlift were sent to Britain and the United States. Neither responded, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh quoted Mishra as saying in an article in New Yorker magazine (Read story). Mishra said that 5,000 Pakistanis and Taliban were airlifted by Pakistan after the fall of Kunduz, describing it as ''a ballpark figure''. Mishra was quoted as saying that the Indian intelligence was convinced that many of the airlifted fighters would soon infiltrate into Kashmir. There was a precedent for this. In the past, Pakistan''s ISI had trained fighters in Afghanistan and then funnelled them into Kashmir. Referring to the December 13 Parliament attack, which took place three weeks after the airlift, Mishra said if it had resulted in a more significant number of casualties ''there would have been mayhem''. ''Nobody in India wants war, but other options are not ruled out,'' Mishra said. The article quotes one of India''s ''most senior intelligence officials'' as saying Pakistan President Pervez ''Musharraf can''t afford to keep the Taliban in Pakistan. They''re dangerous to his own regime. Our reading is the fighters can go only to Kashmir.'' The US had denied reports of the airlift but the article quotes its intelligence and military officials as saying they indeed took place at musharraf''s instance. The article says operatives in RAW reported extensively on the Pakistani airlift out of Kunduz. RAW, it says, has excellent access to the Northern Alliance and a highly sophisticated ability to intercept electronic communications. An Indian military adviser was quoted as saying that when the airlift began ''we knew within minutes''. In interviews in New Delhi, Indian National Security and Intelligence officials, it adds, repeatedly declared that the airlift had rescued not only members of the Pakistani military but its citizens who had volunteered to fight against the Northern Alliance, as well as non-Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda. The article quotes RAW''s Senior Analyst for Pakistani and Afghan Issues as saying the most extensive rescue efforts took place on three nights at the time of the fall of Kunduz. Indian intelligence had concluded that 8,000 or more men were trapped inside the city in the last days of the siege, roughly half of whom were Pakistanis (Afghans, Uzbeks, Chechens, and various Arab mercenaries made up the rest). At least five flights were specifically ''confirmed'' by India''s informants, the RAW analyst said, and many more were believed to have taken place. In India''s assessment, the article says, 33,00 prisoners surrendered to a Northern Alliance tribal faction headed by Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum. A few hundred Taliban were also turned over to other tribal leaders. That Left between 4,000-5,000 men unaccounted for. ''Where are the balance?'' the intelligence officer asked, according to the article. The article quotes the officials as saying two Pakistani army generals were on the flights. ''None of the American intelligence officials I spoke with were able to say with certainty how many Taliban and al Qaeda fighters were flown to safety, or may have escaped from Kunduz by other means,'' the writer says. India, ''wary of antagonising the Bush administration'' chose not to denounce the airlift at the time. But there was a great deal of anger within the Indian government. ''We had all the information, but we did not go public,'' the Indian military adviser was quoted as saying. ''Why should we embarrass you? We should be sensible.'' A RAW official, according to the article, said India had intelligence that Musharraf''s message to the Americans had been that he didn''t want to see body bags coming back to Pakistan. ''Musharraf has not done as much as the Indians want,'' a Bush administration official who is involved in South Asian issues said. ''But he''s done more than I''d thought he''d do. He had to do some thing, because the Indians are so wound up.'' The official also said, however, that Musharraf could not last in office if he conceded the issue of Kashmir to India and would not want to do so in any case. ''He is not a fundamentalist but a Pakistani nationalist; he genuinely believes that Kashmir ''should be ours.'' at the end of the day, Musharraf would come out ahead if he could get rid of the Pakistani and Kashmiri terrorists; if he can survive it. They have eaten the vitals out of Pakistan.''


Return to the Archives 2002 Index Page

Return to Home Page