As self-styled preacher and fugitive Amritpal Singh evades arrest by the Punjab police on the fourth consecutive day, central agencies have pressed the panic button over several close entities in his circle having a connection with the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF)—banned by the Union Home Ministry in 2018 for terror activities under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
KLF is run by Pakistan-based Lakhbir Singh Rode, the nephew of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, whose heavy influence on Amritpal was fast becoming an eyesore for the Punjab police which launched a manhunt to nab him.
When the KLF was banned, the Home Ministry said in its notification that the outfit was engaged in killing of innocent persons, including police officers, several bombings of civilian targets, collection of funds for terror activities, bank robberies and assassination attempts on important government functionaries.
According to intelligence officials, Lakhbir's close associates played an important role in the elevation of Amritpal. One of them was learnt to be in Dubai where Amritpal spent nine years.
While Rode’s family in Punjab does not support Amritpal, it was due to the links with Pakistan-based Lakhbir that he got indoctrinated before he took over the operations of Waris Punjab De and was spotted by the Pakistan ISI to target the disgruntled youth in Punjab.
One ISI officer named Mirza is learnt to have overseen the funding activities since Amritpal came to India. Sources said hawala networks were used for funding the members of Waris Punjab De after Amritpal took over and investigations are going on to trace these financial networks after several associates of Amritpal have been arrested.
Other associates of Amritpal who are abroad were allegedly funding Waris Punjab De and some of them based in Canada and the UK also enjoy close links with the KLF fugitives, said sources.
The KLF and Rode have been on the radar of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) after IED blasts hit Punjab in 2021 in the Ludhiana court complex. The NIA alleged that Rode, with the help of Pakistan-based crossborder smugglers, had formed a terror module to smuggle weapons into India. The fact that Amritpal's armed militia was carrying unlicensed weapons—12 bore double barrel guns, 0.315 bore rifles and 0.32 bore revolver—has led investigators to probe whether the KLF operatives had passed on arms and ammunition to Amritpal and his associates. For now, the chase is continuing and sources said more details of the ISI penetration into WPD activities will become clear once Amritpal is arrested and interrogated. So far, there is no direct handler who has been identified, but there are several call records that point towards the role of cross-border support and ISI's gameplan to destabilise Punjab.
Deceased actor Deep Sidhu had brought Waris Punjab De under the scanner with his tractor march by protestors leading to violence at the Red Fort in 2021, but his successor Amritpal has metamorphosed the outfit into one with alleged links to terror outfits like the KLF, Babbar Khalsa International and Sikhs for Justice—which have been organising protests at Indian missions in the UK, Australia and the US in support of Amritpal.