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HVK Archives: Living in the ISI's shadow

Living in the ISI's shadow - Kashmir Sentinel

Maloy Krishna Dhar ()
September 1 - October 15, 1998

Title: Living in the ISI's shadow
Author: Maloy Krishna Dhar
Publication: Kashmir Sentinel
Date: September 1 - October 15, 1998

Our Political masters, Jayalalitha included, cry hoarse about the
foreign hand whenever their cup of milk sours, their favourite
targets being the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or that ogre-
next-door, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Their
noises, however, do not reflect the extent of the danger India
faces from the ISI. And no matter how loud they are in their
denunciation of the ISI, we know very little about the genie
acquiring demoniacal proportions in our backyard.

The two umbilical twins, India and Pakistan, have been kicking
and scratching at each other for five decades, fighting
disastrous wars, open and covert. Now that we have armed
ourselves with the brahmastras nuclear weapons and sophisticated
missile technology - it is presumed that the wise men in New
Delhi and Islamabad will limit their war cries to posturing and
not pound each other with the nuclear hammer.

But peace by nuclear deterrence, the cold war cliche, isn't
likely to put an end to Pakistan's strategy or proxy war and
export of Islamist terrorism. For, Pakistan understands that
another open war, strategically and tactically, will be suicidal.
And its renewed proxy war against India is being led by that
entity called the ISI Directorate.

it was conceived back in 1948 as the nucleus of the inter-
services coordination module by a British Army Officer who chose
to serve in the Pakistan Army as Deputy Chief of staff after
Partition. The Pakistan Intelligence Bureau, the separated
Siamese twin of India's Intelligence Bureau (IB), was the main
intelligence outfit, besides the military, air and naval
intelligence directorates

Starting as a low -key liaison organisation headed by a
Brigadier, the ISI coordinated the functions of the foreign
military attaches in Pakistan and their Pakistani counterparts
accredited to missions abroad. Pakistan's Kashmir war, however,
led to a sudden spurt in the activities of the ISI Directorate,
even during the lifetime of the Quaide-e-Azam, M.A. Jinnah. It
played a vital role in recruiting tribals and pushing them into

As the early blossom of democracy withered away and the civil
servant-army coterie hijacked the fledgling nation, Major-General
Iskander Mirza, a Bengali by birth, started nurturing the ISI as
an instrument of governance. The extra-constitutional rulers
badly needed an extra legal instrument to perpetuate their
stranglehold and to carry out a different kind of way against its
umbilical twin in true CIA style.

With General Ayub Khan usurping power in 1958, the ISI received a
shot in the arm. Needless to say, the ISI has always been headed
by officers from the Army, the strongest wing of the armed forces
and the second pillar of the Pakistani establishment. Successive
rulers of Pakistan - Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan,
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, General Zia-ul-Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz
Sharif have had their own compulsions in contributing to the
ISI's growth, even as the agency gradually incorporated within it
the characteristics of the CIA, the KGB, the Mossad, the Iranian
Savak and the Afghan Khad.

Z.A. Bhutto's Genie Becomes His Nemesis

Contrary to speculation that Zia-ul-Haq masterminded the honing
of the ISI's dirty operational edges, it was Z.A. Bhutto who
strengthened the military-dominated intelligence outfit and
legalised its involvement in domestic politics. His manipulation
of Lt. General Ghulam Jilani, Director, M, before and during the
1971 War, was part of a cynical conspiracy that culminated in the
breakup of Pakistan. Jilani survived the legal murder of the
Sindhi demagogue and enjoyed Zia's patronage. Ironically, it was
Bhutto who tried to placate the truncated, demoralised and
devastated armed forces by upgrading the ISI chief's rank to that
of a three -star general.

In 1981, Soviet Russia's involvement in Afghanistan changed the
existing geopolitical equations. The involvement of the US,
China and the Islamic nations in the new killing fields of
Afghanistan tempted Zia to involve the ISI in the Afghan
imbroglio as a shadow of Pakistan's regular forces. He had, in
fact, turned the ISI into a CIA -style organisation, adding to
its sinister arsenal, giving it unbridled power to interfere in
internal affairs, including those of his political and military
opponents. The legal murder of Bhutto, in-fact, testified to the
sinister capabilities of this genie, nursed so carefully by the
slain premier himself.

After Bhutto and Zia, there was no looking back for the ISI. It
had turned into a pseudo-political entity under Zia and the
absence of a democratic process and the Russian presence in
Afghanistan conferred upon it a halo of invincibility.

For a brief period, Benazir Bhutto and General Hamid Gul, the ISI
chief, differed on the Afghan issue. It was Gul who had cobbled
up Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), a coalition of parties opposed
to Benazir. An expert in the trade-craft of clandestine arming
and training of the mujahids, Gul had not only masterminded the
ISI's Afghan forays, but had also helped the military regime
fashion its strategic thrust into Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

After her electoral victory, however, Benazir sacked Hamid Gul
and inducted Lt. General (Retd) Shamsur Rahman Kallue. That
infuriated the army establishment as the top brass wanted to
install a serving ally. An alarm was sounded that Benazir was out
to curtail the ISI's internal political clout because of its
involvement in the harassment of PPP leaders during Zia's regime,
apart from the legal murder of her father.

Benazir made an effort, through the Zulfiqar Committee, to
curtail the ISI's sphere of influence. Following her dismissal,
Major General Asad Durrani was appointed ISI chief and was
followed by Lt. General Javed Nasir and later by Lt. General
Javed Ashraf Kazi.

With the induction of General Nasir, an officer of the Corps of
Engineers, the ISI again got embroiled in internal politics and
the export of terrorism. An Islamist fundamentalist, a member of
the Jamaat-e-Islam and Tabligh-i-Jamaat, the proselytizing
fraternity and a Kashmiri to boot, Nasir thrived on anti-India
brine. He brought in qualitative changes in the ISI's Afghan
forays, but had also helped the military regime fashion its
strategic thrust into Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir terrorists.
His tenure concluded with Benazir's second incarnation, when
state-sponsored terrorism had not only affected Afghanistan and
India, but adversely impacted on Pakistan-US and Pakistan China
relations as well.

Besides prolonged cross-border terrorism in India, the
involvement of Pakistan trained terrorists in Bosnia, Algeria,
Saudi Arabia, southern Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, the
Xinjiang province of China and even on US soil had peaked by the
end of 1992, when the US threatened to declare Pakistan a
terrorist state. Nasir's removal, after Nawaz Sharif's dismissal,
in fact, was welcomed by Washington and Beijing.

The ISI's Afghan sojourn, meanwhile, is a saga of freeboot
buccaneering. The Taliban episode is a flagrant violation of
international diplomatic fair-play, with tacit encouragement from
the US. and several Islamic nations, including Saudi Arabia. For
us, ISI activities in Afghanistan are a pointer to its ability to
escalate Islamic terrorism in J&K and carry out a proxy war
elsewhere in the country, Pakistan has been emboldened by its
firm belief that renewed acts of terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir
by its 'holy warriors' wouldn't invite swift retaliation by India
inside its territory.

Besides India, Pakistan supports Islamist terrorism in the
Xinjiang province of China and CIS countries as an instrument of
ensuring its enduring centrality in the evolving regional
dynamics. Pakistan is simply trying to pick up the mantle of the
Turkish, Iranian and Saudi regimes in the Central Asian void
after the break up of the USSR. Pressure from the US. China and
Saudi Arabia, as well as internal compulsions, however, forced
Pakistan to shift its training schools for terrorists from its
soil to Afghan territory.

Significantly, the rapidly expanding terrorist training system
has been integrated with the madrasas in Pakistan and even with
selected madrasas in western UP, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra,
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and
J&K. The madrasa students ( or Taliban) are indoctrinated in the
pan-Islamist notion of Ummah-i-Wahidah, or an organic entity
transcending all boundaries.

This new doctrine of involving the madrasas beyond the borders of
Pakistan is laden with the possibility of fundamentalist
terrorist activities escalating not only in J&K, but also in
other parts of India. The ISI operations in India have always
been an extension of the strategic and diplomatic arms of
Pakistani establishment. Apart from its involvement in the North-
East insurgency. Left extremist movements in North Bengal (Charu
Mazumdar group), the Punjab turmoil, Kashmir militancy, Mumbai
bomb blasts and innumerable other acts of sabotage and
subversion, the ISI has been active; in fomenting communal riots
in northern India and, more recently, in the South as well.
Southern India, in fact, has seen a number of bombing incidents
and communal riots perpetrated by ISI motivated fundamentalist
modules, nursed assiduously since 1985, and not in the wake of
the Ayodhya tragedy, as some of our politicians would like us to

Strident Hindutva feeds the Monester

The ISI, besides operating under the cover of accredited
diplomatic and non-diplomatic officials, numbering about 30,
depend largely on : Even as the agents target military and other
sensitive secrets, a large number of operatives sponsored by the
ISI - belonging to front organisations like Islamic Mahaz, Dawaal
Islami, Al Fuqra, Muslim Mujaheedin, Al Jehad, Motammar-al-
Islami, Binnori Town Mosque in the New Town district of Karachi
(the alma mater of the Taliban movement), Jamait-ul-Mujaheedin,
Hijb-ul-Mujaheedin, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Ikhwan-ul-
Mussalmin, and so on - regularly infiltrate to launch acts of

The thrust target areas of ISI sponsored fundamentalists are
Assam, Manipur, Tripura, West Bengal, Bihar, parts of Uttar
Pradesh and Bihar bordering Nepal, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya
Pradesh, with areas of special interest being Punjab and J&K
besides pockets in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra
Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Now that our strategic capability has reached a nuclear peak, it
is natural for the ISI to reinforce its thrust, targeting our
areas of weakness. The lull between overt wars have been
exploited by Pakistan to- accelerate its proxy war. Unwittingly,
certain political groups are abetting the fragmentation of India
by indulging in blind Hindutva, and the Sangh Parivar's
ambivalence on the issue is only reinforcing the schizophrenic
isolation of the minorities. The ISI is exploiting this
alienation to its advantage. The Coimbatore blasts were
symptomatic of this painful truth.

As India gets more polarised, new points, of conflict will
provide soft targets to the ISI. Post nuclear India under the BJP
has not only invited economic sanctions, but also waved the
proverbial' red rag to the charging bull. War cries against
India have sustained crumbling regimes in Islamabad and the post-
sanctions Sharif dispensation may find it difficult to resist the

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