Monday, April 6, 2009

THE ISI BOGEY: REALLY? (13-2-2000)


While rightly cautioning against a mass hysteria over the alleged activities of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan in India, ShriV.Krishna Ananth ("The Hindu", February 5) has belittled the assessment of the Indian security bureaucracy on the extent and nature of theISI's role in fomenting terrorism in India.

Pakistani assistance for the anti-Government of India activities of alienated sections of the Indian society was not due only to its revanchistspirit following its loss of the then East Pakistan in December 1971, as is often presumed by many analysts.

It was initially the outcome of an assessment made by the Pakistani intelligence community in the early 1950s that keeping Indiadestabilised and its military preoccupied with internal security duties would be one way of neutralising, at little cost, the superiority of theIndian armed forces over their Pakistani counterpart.

This assessment and the political implications of Pakistani support to Indian insurgent and terrorist groups had been repeatedly questionedby the Pakistani political leaders whenever they came to power--- by the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto in 1971,by Mrs.Benazir Bhutto in 1988 whenshe feared that Pakistan's playing "the Sikh card" against India might force the latter to retaliate with the "Sindh card", and again in 1993,when the US started pressurising Islamabad to discontinue this policy, and by Mr.Nawaz Sharif during his two tenures as Prime Minister .

On each occasion, the ISI and the military leadership managed to convince the political leadership that keeping India destabilised and theIndian military preoccupied with internal security duties would be equivalent to the "Pakistan army having two extra divisions at no cost" asLt.Gen.Hamid Gul, the ISI Director-General in the 1980s, once put it to Mrs. Bhutto and that giving up this policy would entail a furtherincrease in their defence budget.

The post-1971 revanchist spirit provided further justification to this policy, which was projected thereafter as also a means of repairingPakistan's injured pride due to the humiliation of December 1971, pre-empting any Indian move to further break up Pakistan and frustratingwhat Islamabad regards as India's hegemonistic ambitions.
Even after Pakistan achieved, in its mind, a psychological parity with India following its acquisition of the military nuclear and missilecapabilities, the need to prevent India from emerging as the paramount military and economic power of the region by keeping its armybleeding in internal security duties has become the obsessive preoccupation of its military leadership.

Before seizing political power on October 12,1999, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, its Chief Executive, had himself underlined on many occasionsthe need to keep the Indian army continuously bleeding just as the Afghan Mujahideen, with US and Pakistani assistance, had kept theSoviet troops bleeding. It is apparently his calculation that such a policy could ultimately weaken the unity and integrity of India just as thebleeding of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan contributed to the USSR break-up.

He told the Karachi branch of Pakistan's English-speaking Union on April 12,1999, ("Nation" of April 14) that even a bilaterally-negotiatedsolution to the Kashmir issue might not normalise relations with India since Pakistan would continue to be a thorn on India's side byfrustrating its hegemonistic ambitions and this would make India continue with its policy of weakening Pakistan.

Public memory in India---that includes media memory-- tends to be even shorter than elsewhere in the world. How many of us recall thetraining of four gangs of the Naga hostiles by the ISI in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of the then East Pakistan in the 1950s and the early1960s, the post-1962 disruption of the Naga traffic to the CHT by the Ne Win Government of Myanmar after many violent clashes, thelocation of the headquarters of the Mizo National Front in the CHT and the role of the ISI as the facilitator of contacts of the Naga and Mizohostiles with the Chinese intelligence, which led to Yunnan replacing the CHT as their main training ground till the late Deng Xiao-pingdiscontinued China's assistance to foreign insurgent groups in 1979?

How many of us remember that the Sikh Homeland Movement of Charanjit Singh Paanchi, the precursor of the so-called Khalistanmovement, was born not in India, but in the UK and not after the Pakistani army's humiliation in the 1971 war, but long before, at a meetingof some Sikhs of the UK convened by the ISI?
Can anyone forget the visits of Dr.Jagjit Singh Chauhan, of the Khalistan Movement, to Pakistan for meeting Yahya Khan before the 1971war and his lionisation by the ISI and the Pakistan army as the "Father of the Sikh Nation"?

Many authentic reports were available in the past on the contacts of the Sikh extremist leaders with the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA)of the Pentagon, initially through the DIA's representative in the US Embassy in New Delhi and, subsequently, through its officer in the USEmbassy in Paris, and on the close co-ordination by the DIA and the ISI of their support to Dr.Chauhan under the supervision of the USNational Security Council, then headed by Dr.Henry Kissinger, before the war of December,1971.

Many of us, who lived through the dramatic 1971, were personal witnesses to the visits of Dr.Chauhan to New York, at the instance of the ISIand the aides of Dr.Kissinger, to divert attention from India's diplomatic campaign against Pakistan on the violation of the human rights ofthe Bengalis of East Pakistan.

The DIA's involvement with the ISI in instigating the Khalistan movement against New Delhi was scaled down under President Jimmy Carterand discontinued after the ISI gave shelter in Lahore to the late Talwinder Singh Parmar, of the Babber Khalsa, Vancouver, who wasallegedly involved in the explosion of the Kanishka aircraft of Air India in 1985.
The involvement of the Chinese intelligence with the ISI in the North-East was stopped under Deng's policy of avoiding overseas covertactions.
Since 1985, the ISI has continued, on its own, with its policy of destabilisation and details of its post-1985 activities in India are well knownand need no repetition.

It would not thus be an exaggeration to talk of a Pakistani involvement--not necessarily the ISI in every case-- behind most of the acts ofterrorism in India.

There are many Pakistani dramatis personae involved in terrorism in India--serving and retired officers of the Punjab police, officials ofPakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), retired officers of the army who had served in East Pakistan, the Islamic jihadi organisations, thePakistani Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the ISI. Sometimes, they act in concert and, sometimes, one is not aware of the activities of another.
Each has its own agenda. The ISI's has already been explained above. Punjab police officers have nostalgic memories of their pastfriendships with the overseas-based Sikh extremist leaders and, similarly, the retired army officers with the Naga hostiles. They do nothesitate to help their old friends, when needed. The POK officers' agenda is self-explanatory. The jihadi groups want to "liberate" not onlyKashmir, but also the Muslims in the rest of India from Hindu control. The IB just wants to prove to their political leadership that it also exists.

To the Rajiv Gandhi Government goes the credit of initiating a well thought-out two-pronged response to Pakistan in the form of a minimumcounter-covert warfare deterrence to convince the Pakistani military, on the ground, of the futility of its confrontationist policy and,simultaneously, an exercise to dilute, through bilateral interactions at various levels, Pakistan's unjustified paranoia about India.

Thus were born the hot line contacts between the two army hqs, which still continue, regular meetings of the border commanders, whichalso continue, bi-annual meetings of the narcotics control officials (one is not certain whether they still take place), bi-annual open meetingsof internal security officials headed by the Home Secretary, which were discontinued in 1989, and periodic covert back-channel contactsbetween the two security bureaucracies, which were discontinued in 1991.

The covert back-channel contacts, started in 1988 at the instance of a good friend of India and Pakistan in West Asia, served as a forum notonly for letting out steam at each other away from media glare, but also for testing out new ideas of the political leaderships without anyprior commitment and without giving rise to any public controversy.

When the bilateral atmosphere worsened after the Mumbai blasts of 1993, the US and China, independently of each other, without each apparently aware of the other's move and both possibly unaware of the pre-1991 covert back-channel, offered their good offices for settingup a covert back-channel for the same purposes, but New Delhi reacted negatively.

The present state of bilateral relations is unhealthy and uncomfortable, without any coherent policy response from us. Such a response hasto be operational, diplomatic and para-diplomatic. The operational aspect relates to making it clear to Pakistan, through appropriatecounter covert warfare strategy, that it will be the long-term loser in its present covert war against India.

The diplomatic refers to the need to reinvigorate professional diplomatic interactions, which have dried up after the coup of October 12, andto reactivate the network of contacts of official agencies set up in the 1980s
The para-diplomatic is about the need to re-start the covert back-channel, which will have a useful role to play. Such covert back-channelcontacts were maintained with Beijing even in the very tense days of the bilateral relations, with the then Yugoslavia acting as thefacilitator, and this channel was used by Indira Gandhi to test the Chinese waters for a possible visit by her, which did not materialise, andby Rajiv Gandhi for paving the way for normalisation and his 1988 visit.
B.RAMAN (13-2-00)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.)

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