By Syed Nazakat
Mehrajuddin Dand was an informer.
He worked against the Indian government before he worked for it. In Nepal, he was part of India’s biggest anti-terrorism operation abroad. The operation, which flushed out Nepal-based anti-India terrorists, began after the hijack of IC-814 in 1999.
The aircraft from Kathmandu to New Delhi was eventually released from Kandahar, Afghanistan, after India freed three terrorists, including Maulana Masood Azhar and Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh. Hijackers killed a passenger, Rupin Katyal, 25.
No one had heard of Dand until last week, when the Jammu and Kashmir Police arrested him. He was subsequently accused of being a backroom planner in the hijacking. On the other hand, central security agencies dismissed the police claim and said the identity of their undercover agent was compromised. Home ministry officials confirm that Dand provided important information on terrorists and on the smuggling of weapons and fake currency from Nepal to India.
Once an ordinary tailor in Sopore, Dand, like thousands of other Kashmiri youth, crossed the LoC in 1990s and underwent arms training in Pakistan. On his return he was disillusioned and was seen as a non-active militant.
Some reports claimed that he was a key terror commander and that he was named as a suspect in a first information report registered in Sopore in 2008. But, specific charges have not been levelled against him in Kashmir or in Delhi. In 1993 he was held under preventive detention and lodged in the Kot Bhalwal Jail in Jammu. After his release in 1995, he left for Kathmandu, set up a small shop there and married a Nepali girl in 1997.
It is not clear whether he migrated on his own or was sent by the security agencies to keep an eye on the Nepal route. But, it is clear that he helped Indian security agencies from Nepal. He would often travel to Pakistan to gather information, and developed high-level links in militant organisations. There is a telling picture of him with Syed Salahuddin, the Hizb-ul-
In Kathmandu, he had contacts inside the Pakistan embassy, chief of them being Arshad Cheema, the ISI station chief. Dand reportedly passed on valuable intelligence on Cheema, who was eventually arrested and deported in 2001 after Nepali authorities found 16kg plastic explosives in his house.
Cheema was spotted at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport on the morning of the hijacking. However, in the charge-sheet filed by the CBI on the hijacking case, there is no mention of Cheema, Dand or any other person from Kashmir.
Home ministry spokesperson K.S. Dhatwalia told THE WEEK that the ministry had nothing to say on Dand’s arrest. Dilbag Singh, inspector general, J&K Police, said, “There is nothing specific that connects him with Kandahar hijack. We are still investigating the case.”
According to his family in Kashmir, Dand was arrested from a taxi at Katra, around 50km from Jammu, while going from Jammu to Srinagar. Sources say Dand is suffering from cancer, and might have come to India for treatment.
(September,2012 THE WEEK)