Monday, January 12, 2015

Tell Obama to hand over Rabinder

12 January 2015, New Delhi, Pankaj Sharma
If the Narendra Modi-led government can bring back double-agent Rabinder Singh from America, then we can hope to compel Pakistan to hand over Dawood

New Delhi has asked Islamabad to hand over Dawood Ibrahim to India for his alleged role in several terrorist attacks across our country. The Bhartiya Janta Party-led government seems overconfident and thinks that the day is very near when Dawood will be punished for his deeds in India. The BJP’s ally Shiv Sena has dared the government to capture Dawood, after recent intelligence inputs stated that he was hiding in Karachi.

In the past India has repeatedly asked Pakistan to hand over Dawood. The recent evidence of Dawood’s presence in Pakistan, along with a request to hand him over was made last month. The BJP has every right to beat the drum, saying Dawood’s ‘Ghar Wapsi’ is imminent. However, is it really that simple and should we start hoping that 2015 would be the year, when we will see Dawood behind bars in India?

Remember Rabinder Singh? He was the double agent, who worked for Research and Analysis Wing as joint secretary in-charge of South East Asia, during the tenure of last National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by BJP stalwart Atal Behari Vajpayee. He fled the country in 2004, when United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government took over. Rabinder Singh had run away 10 years back. He was declared a proclaimed offender five years back in 2009. Indian secret agencies know that his disappearance was aided by America’s Central Intelligence Agency. Singh is currently living in the US with his wife. However, can India do anything to bring him back, especially from a country with which we share very cordial relations? The government of the day has such a special relationship with Washington that US President Barack Obama will attend this year’s Republic Day ceremony as its chief guest. In spite of all these circumstances, can the BJP assure us that Rabinder Singh will be brought back from the US?

As per information available with the Government of India, Rabinder Singh lives in New Jersey with his wife. Nearly two-and-a-half years after Rabinder Singh fled to the US, our external intelligence agency RAW formally lodged a criminal complaint in a Delhi court in November 2006, accusing him of compromising national security by spying for a Western intelligence agency. In its complaint, running into some 30 pages, the agency said that they had located Singh in New Jersey and that New Delhi should begin the process of extraditing him. The Home Ministry had earlier invoked the National Security Act (NSA) and issued orders to attach Singh’s property. Special sanction was given by the Cabinet Secretariat to allow RAW to move against Singh, as the agency does not possess any prosecution powers.

Singh initially served in the Indian Army as a Major. He later volunteered to join RAW and attracted attention from counter-intelligence officials, when suspicion arose surrounding his activities. He was quietly placed under surveillance, but soon disappeared in May 2004. He reached US via Nepal. ‘Mission R&AW’, a book written by a former intelligence officer, Amar Bhushan, published in 2012, claims that Singh flew to America from Kathmandu along with his wife on May 7, 2004, under the names of Mr and Mrs Rajpal Prasad Sharma. The book claimed that RAW even managed to get copies of their visas and embarkation cards. These documents reveal that the CIA on April 7, 2004, issued US passport number 017384251 to Singh. His wife Parminder Kaur was also given a US passport on the same day, under the name of Deepa Kumar Sharma. Both boarded Austrian Air flight number 5032 on May 7, 2004 from Kathmandu. Singh was assisted by CIA operative David M Vacala in his escape. Amar Bhushan was one of the counter intelligence officers tasked with tracking Singh. His book had given a detailed account of the activities 96 days before Rabinder Singh and his wife boarded the flight to USA from Kathmandu. They landed at Dulles International Airport in Washington on May 8 at 3.40 am. As they came out of the aircraft, they were received by a man who introduced himself as Patrick Burns. He whisked them away, bypassing immigration and customs and took them to a secluded house in the heart of Maryland. The fugitives stayed incognito, while documents were being arranged to permanently wipe out their real identities. Three weeks later, they were set free to live their American dream under fake identities.

The UPA government began a thorough investigation into the state of affairs in RAW and found that the Prime Minister’s Office under Atal Behari Vajpayee had made critical errors in handling the prestigious intelligence agency. These errors had systematically led to serious discrepancies in the working of RAW, which may have helped Rabinder Singh flee to the US after passing on sensitive information to his American contacts. Also under the scanner were the turf battles between the three top RAW officials. The investigation indicated that ever since erstwhile RAW chief, CD Sahay, was appointed in March 2003 the agency had become a multi-headed group lacking cohesiveness. Sharp divisions at the highest levels of the agency were accentuated by Brajesh Mishra’s, then Principal Secretary to Vajpayee, handling of the agency. Mishra sat on the RAW’s request for action against Singh. Such delays allowed Singh the requisite time to escape via Nepal. MK Narayanan, Special Advisor to the Prime Minister and former Intelligence Bureau chief, investigated the functioning of RAW, especially the reasons leading to Rabinder’s defection.

A Delhi court had declared Rabinder Singh a proclaimed offender on January 29, 2009, after the CBI informed the court that it had not been able to execute its non-bailable warrants. In the meantime, CIA’s Kathmandu station head was recalled from Nepal and retired compulsorily for “badly handling” the escape and exposing the CIA’s involvement. The CIA’s director, Operations, for South East Asia at Langley, the CIA headquarters, was also reprimanded for failing to ensure that the “Agent” was evacuated covertly.

Since the murky episode, nobody knows about the progress made in the case. If the Narendra Modi-led government can bring back double-agent Rabinder Singh from US in the coming months, we can then hope to compel Pakistan to hand over Dawood.  

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