‘Credible evidence’ of links between Indian agents and assassination of 2 Pakistanis: foreign secretary

Published January 25, 2024
Foreign Secretary Syrus Sajjad Qazi addresses a press briefing on Thursday. — screengrab
Foreign Secretary Syrus Sajjad Qazi addresses a press briefing on Thursday. — screengrab

Foreign Secretary Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi on Thursday said Islamabad had “credible evidence” of links between Indian agents and the assassination of two Pakistani nationals in Sialkot and Rawalakot.

Qazi was referring to the deaths of two Pakistanis, identified as Shahid Latif and Muhammad Riaz, in 2023. Similar allegations regarding the Indian government’s involvement in murders in other countries were also made by the US and Canada last year.

At a press briefing in Islamabad today, the foreign secretary said India was running a “sophisticated and sinister” campaign of “extra-territorial and extra-judicial killings” inside Pakistan. He stated that these were “killing-for-hire cases” and involved a “sophisticated international set-up spread over multiple jurisdictions”.

“Indian agents used technology and safe havens on foreign soil to commit assassinations in Pakistan. They recruited, financed and supported criminals, terrorists and unsuspecting civilians to play defined roles in these assassinations,” he said.

According to Qazi, Indian media and social media accounts immediately claimed and glorified these killings as “successful retribution against enemies of India and projected their capacity to carry out these illegal acts”.

He said potential assassins were recruited using social media, talent spotters and fake Daesh accounts. “Teams of financiers, locaters and assassins were employed in the operation,” Qazi stated, adding that deliberate exit plans were also developed to obscure all potential tracks.

Revealing details about the assassinations, he said: “On October 11, 2023, Mr Shahid Latif was assassinated outside a mosque in Sialkot. A detailed investigation revealed that an Indian agent, Yogesh Kumar, based in a third country orchestrated the assassination.”

Qazi said Kumar recruited Muhammad Umair, a labourer in the third country, to act as a contact with local criminals in Pakistan to trace and assassinate Shahid Latif. “They recruited local criminals who were able to locate and trade Shahid Latif, however, they were unable to carry out the execution.”

“After some of the failed attempts, Umair himself was personally sent to Pakistan to carry out the assassination,” the foreign secretary said, adding that Umair organised a team of five target killers and succeeded in assassinating Shahid Latif.

“Based on the confessional statements and technical evidence, law enforcement authorities quickly apprehended the target killers, including Muhammad Umair, who were trying to flee the country on Oct 12, 2023,” Qazi said.

He added that all those involved in the killings were apprehended and a case was being tried in the court of law. “We have evidence of transactions made in the process linking the entire chain to Indian agent Yogesh Kumar,” Qazi said.

Talking about the second assassination, the foreign secretary said another Indian agent was involved in the killing of a Pakistani man, identified as Muhammad Riaz, who was “assassinated during Fajr prayers inside a mosque in Rawalakot on September 8, 2023”.

“Law enforcement agencies tracked the killer, Muhammad Abdullah Ali, and arrested him on September 15, 2023, while boarding a flight at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi,” Qazi stated, adding that interrogation revealed Ali was recruited and guided by Indian agents Ashok Kumar Anand and Yogesh Kumar.

He said Indian agents used the social media platform Telegram to recruit Ali, elaborating that Ali received payments and was provided with weapons and ammunition. Qazi added that the case was being tried in the court of law.

The foreign secretary went on to say that the investigators “quickly identified” Ali’s facilitators on the basis of confessional statements and technical evidence. “We have documentary, financial and forensic evidence of the involvement of the two Indian agents who masterminded these assassinations,” he said, adding that the Pakistan government was releasing the passport details of these agents.

Qazi further said that Islamabad had also reached out to the governments of relevant third countries. “There are a few other cases of similar gravity at various stages of investigation,” he added.

He stated that these cases revealed a “growing sophistication and brazenness of Indian-sponsored terrorist acts in Pakistan”, highlighting that such incidents were also reported in Canada and the US. “Clearly the Indian network of extra-judicial and extra-territorial killings has become a global phenomenon,” the foreign secretary said.

He asserted that it was critical to bring the killers, their facilitators and financiers to justice. “India must be held accountable internationally for its blatant violation of international law. India’s assassination of Pakistani nationals on Pakistani soil is a violation of its sovereignty and a breach of the UN charter,” Qazi stressed, calling it “completely unacceptable”.

He maintained that Pakistan remained committed to protecting its people and securing its sovereignty, asserting that the protection of Pakistan and any foreign national on Pakistani soil “is a high priority” for the government.

“India’s reckless and irresponsible act calls into question India’s reliability as a credible international player and its claims for enhanced global responsibilities,” Qazi added.

Indian foreign ministry responds

In a statement issued later, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs called Qazi’s remarks “Pakistan’s latest attempt at peddling false and malicious anti-India propaganda”.

“As the world knows, Pakistan has long been the epicentre of terrorism, organised crime, and illegal transnational activities,” it claimed. “India and many other countries have publicly warned Pakistan cautioning that it would be consumed by its own culture of terror and violence.”

“Pakistan will reap what it sows. To blame others for its own misdeeds can neither be justification nor a solution,” the statement added.

India has often accused Pakistan of terrorism, a charge Islamabad vehemently denies. It has also counter-accused New Delhi of its involvement in terrorism in Pakistan.

Allegations by US, Canada

In September last year, Canada accused the Indian government of its involvement in the June murder in a Vancouver suburb of Canadian citizen and Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whom India called a “terrorist”. India denies the allegation.

The claims had prompted hundreds of Sikh protesters to rally outside Indian diplomatic missions in Canada. They also burnt flags and trampled on pictures of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Canada called for India to cooperate in the investigation into his death and expelled an Indian diplomat over the affair. In a tit-for-tat response, New Delhi expressed outrage and took countermeasures such as shutting down visa services for Canadians.

The Indian government had also advised its nationals not to travel to parts of Canada “given the increase in anti-Indian activities”.

Separately, in November 2023, the United States charged an Indian man accused by the US of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil.

The US Justice Department unsealed murder-for-hire charges against Nikhil Gupta, 52, “in connection with his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen” of Indian origin in New York City, it said in a statement.

The Justice Department said the man allegedly targeted in the killing “is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a US-based organisation that advocates for the secession of Punjab,” a northern Indian state with a large population of Sikhs.

Gupta, who lives in India, was arrested by authorities in the Czech Republic under US extradition orders.

India’s foreign ministry responded by saying that had it set up a “high-level” inquiry committee “to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter”. Last month, India’s Modi said he would investigate any evidence regarding the Sikh murder plot.

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