Flanked by spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Foreign Secretary Syrus Sajjad Qazi speaks at a media briefing.—Courtesy Foreign Office
Flanked by spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, Foreign Secretary Syrus Sajjad Qazi speaks at a media briefing.—Courtesy Foreign Office

• Foreign secretary describes operations as ‘sophisticated and multi-jurisdictional’ • Syrus Qazi says all individuals involved in assassination have been arrested, links them with ‘two Indian agents’

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday presented ‘credible evidence’ implicating India in the orchestrated assassinations of two Pakistani citizens last year within its own borders.

“We have credible evidence of links between Indian agents and the assassination of two Pakistani nationals on Pakistani soil,” Foreign Secretary Syrus Sajjad Qazi said at a media briefing while sharing details of what he described as a “sophisticated and sinister” campaign of targeted extrajudicial killings on Pakistani soil.

Pakistan’s allegations follow separate incidents in Canada and the United States, where Indian agents were also accused of being involved in assassination attempts. Recently, there has been a series of assassinations in various cities of Pakistan targeting individuals previously linked to the uprising in India-held Kashmir. These killings were suspected to be the work of India. However, this is the first time Pakistan has officially levelled accusations against India for these actions.

Mr Qazi described the Indian operations as sophisticated and multi-jurisdictional, involving the recruitment and financing of a diverse array of participants, including criminals, terrorists, and unsuspecting civilians. These individuals were identified and manipulated through social media, talent spotting, and fake Da’esh [the militant Isla­mic State group] accounts, he claimed, showing the operation’s high level of sophistication.

‘Plausible deniability’

The operation was, moreover, meticulously structured, with roles compartmentalised into teams responsible for financing, locating targets, and carrying out assassinations, ensuring operational security and minimising risk of exposure. It also featured a propaganda component, with Indian media and social media platforms swiftly claiming and glorifying the killings as retribution. Additionally, elaborate exit strategies were crafted to obscure any tracks and maintain plausible deniability.

He mentioned that although there were numerous instances where Indian involvement was under suspicion, he was particularly presenting two cases where Indian involvement had been definitively confirmed. These cases involved the murders of Muhammad Riaz in Rawalakot last September and Shahid Latif in Sialkot the previous October.

Riaz, also known as Abu Qasim Kashmiri and who originally hailed from Poonch district of India held Kashmir, had moved to Azad Kashmir in 1999. According to journalist Majid Nizami, following Riaz’s assassination his remains were transported to the Jamaatud Dawa headquarters in Muridke, near Lahore. He was murdered during the Fajr prayer at a Rawalakot mosque. The assassin identified as Muhammad Abdullah Ali, was captured by law enforcement while attempting to board a flight at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport on Sept 15, 2023.

Investigations, according to Mr Qazi, revealed that Ali had been working for “Indian agents Ashok Kumar Anand and Yogesh Kumar”, who used the social media app Telegram for recruitment. Ali’s task was to locate Riaz, for which he received financial incentives from intermediaries based in a third country, along with the necessary weapons and ammunition. His first assassination attempt on Sept 7 failed, but he successfully completed his mission the following day.

Pakistani authorities managed to arrest not only Ali but also several of his accomplices and facilitators across different cities in Pakistan through his confessions and supporting technical evidence.

The other case was of Shahid Latif, who was identified by District Police Officer Sialkot Muhammad Hasan Iqbal, at the time of his assassination, as a Jaish-e-Muhammad activist. The assassination of Shahid Latif, Mr Qazi said, also involved a complex network of individuals and intricate planning. The orchestrator of this operation was also identified as Yogesh Kumar, the Indian agent operating from a Gulf country, he said.

Kumar’s primary recruit for this mission was Muhammad Umair, a labourer in the same country, who was tasked with establishing contact with local criminals in Pakistan, according to the details shared by the foreign secretary. These criminals were successful in locating and tracing Shahid Latif. However, their initial attempts to execute the plan failed.

Consequently, Muham­mad Umair took matters into his own hands and travelled to Pakistan to directly oversee the assassination. He assembled a team of five targeted killers. Their first assassination attempt on Oct 9, 2023, was unsuccessful, but they managed to assassinate Shahid Latif two days later, Mr Qazi said.

The law enforcement authorities, aided by technical evidence, apprehended the target killers, including Muhammad Umair, who was caught on Oct 12, 2023, while trying to leave the country. All individuals involved in the planning and execution of the assassination, the foreign secretary said, have been arrested and are currently facing trial.

Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2024

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