ISI and its Chicanery in Exporting Terrorism

Source : The Indian Defence Review, © 1995 by Lancer Publishers & Distributors.


Article Author : Maj Gen YASHWANT DEVA AVSM (Retd)

Spying is the second oldest profession and nowhere else has it flourished more in a short span of time, that too, with professional élan, than in Pakistan. Known by an innocuous sounding Inter Services Intelligence, abbreviated ISI, it is a wellspring of power and one of the most virile intelligence agencies in the Third World. Its forte lies in intrigue, hatching conspiracies, brokering terrorism and paddling misinformation.

In recent months, the ISI has been in the limelight, its skulduggery having received a new thrust; - and notoriety, fresh showing. A report has been submitted to the House of Representatives by a US task force on terrorism and unconventional warfare. The report, titled, "The New Islamic International" is significant in revealing the exploits of the ISI. That the original document is dated 1 Feb, 1993 and that it has some inaccuracies, does not make the findings any less weighty.

A chilling account" of the role of the ISI's involvement with Sikh militants, bombing of Kanishka and American, indifference, even complicity, has been chronicled in a TV documentary of the "Fifth Estate" of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The documentary deplores the stark incertitude of the US administration, although it had all the evidence at its command. What is worse, by overplaying India’s human rights record, Washington has rewarded and encouraged ISI in its evil pursuits. Another TV feature produced by CNN, traces the ISI connection to Afghan Mujahideen and their involvement with the bomb explosion at the World Trade Centre. The two documentaries together, and the Canadian one by itself constitute the most damning indictment of the ISI Involvement in terrorism in India.

There is no let-up in ISI's activities in Kashmir, which include recruitment, training, arming and induction of terrorist bands, besides guidance in planning and conduct of operations. ISI has a strong connection with Sheikh Mubarak Shah Jiiani and his fundamentalist outfit AI Fuqra. The group was responsible for "a decade long string of assassinations and bombings in the name of Islamic purity."' Lately, the ISI has ventured in the heartland through promotion of narco- terrorism chauvinism. That the organisation has a collaborator in the Nepalese Parliament, is sinister enough, but far more portentous is the patron-age bestowed by the Bangladesh Government to the organisation for promoting insurgency in the North East. Recently, a diabolic plot has been unravelled, which suggests that ISI, with a view to destabilising the country and creating mayhem, had planned to repeat the Bombay blasts and ignite communal riots all over India to coincide with the Republic Day celebrations. With the arrest of four Pakistanis, one Bangladeshi and one Indian in the capital by the Delhi police, a major breakthrough in exposing diabolic designs of the ISI has been achieved. "Though intelligence agencies are still trying to fully comprehend the ramifications of the latest ring unearthed by them, the case is perhaps the most brazen attempt of Pakistan-trained nationals being sent to create terror countrywide; the low intensity proxy war transcending to practically open hostilities."

Mission, Budget and Organisation

The ISI was founded in 1948 by a British army officer, Maj Gen R Cawthome, then Deputy Chief of Staff in Pakistan Army. He conceived it as part of the military establishment, intended to combine and co-ordinate intelligence set-ups of the Services. Over the years, it gathered influence and when Zia seized power, it acquired real muscle. Today, the ISI has achieved the dubious distinction of being the most dreaded outfit, within; and a master-hand in dispensing terrorism, without.

ISI charter incorporates gathering of external and internal intelligence; co-ordination of intelligence functions of the three Services; surveillance over its cadre, foreigners, media men, politically conscious segments of Pak society, diplomats of other countries accredited to Pakistan and Pak diplomats serving outside the country; interception and monitoring of communications; and conduct of covert offensive operations.

Unlike intelligence agencies of other countries, the top and middle rung officers of the ISI are exclusively drawn from the military establishment. Its chief is designated as director general and appointed from amongst the serving lieutenant generals; although there has been one exception when a retired officer was assigned to the post. During Yahya Khan's rule, the DG also headed the newly created National Security Council and that added to his stature and influence. Under the DG there are three deputy director generals (DDGs), one each from the army, the navy and the air force. The ISI mans a Military Liaison Section (MLS) in the Ministry of Interior.

ISI is a major beneficiary of Pakistan's national budget, with a large unaccountable chunk coming from the defence outlay. In Pakistan, no one knows, not even the Prime Minister, as to how much ISI costs to run or precisely how many people it employs. But today, the ISI enjoys total support of the Prime Minister. The fact that, both, she and her father had suffered at the hands of ISI has been forgotten and treated as a closed chapter. She has learnt the bitter lesson from her previous tenure as the Prime Minister, when she confronted the organisation and tried to clip its wings. In the battle of wits, the ISI won and retained its clout; she lost and was sent packing. ISI continues to call the shots, the inspired views of its devaluation notwithstanding.

During the late 80s the most powerful component of the organisation was Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB), which handled political intelligence. In her earlier incarnation as the PM, Benazir ordered transfer of the functions of JIB to the Interior Ministry, but the rumour has it that the sensitive files and dossiers were, instead, moved to the GHQ. Later, they found their way back to the very drawers and cabinets from which they were taken out. And now the ISI has become a law unto itself.

An equally powerful component of the ISI is the Joint Counter Intelligence Bureau (JCIB), it continues to wear authority and influence on its sleeves. It has a director for field surveillance, who keeps a watch on Pak diplomats accredited to other countries. The bureau conducts intelligence operations in Asia and the Middle East. Its special spheres of interest are. the countries of South Asia, a common knowledge; and China, a fact not so well known. ISI's operations in China were started in collaboration with the CIA and perhaps continue to be so; this activity is passionately disguised and denied for obvious reasons. Lately, Afghanistan and Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union too, are being handled by JCIB and these countries have become a favourite haunt of ISI agents." The wing also keeps IS Directorate under surveillance through a section referred to as ISSS and prepares reports for the chief executive; for the latter purpose, there is a director attached to the PM's Secretariat.

Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM) deals with espionage in foreign countries and offensive intelligence operations. J&K affairs, including infiltration, exfilteration, propaganda and shady operations, is the mission assigned to JIN (an abbreviation standing for Joint Intelligence : North) under DDG External II, a post generally held by a major general. While the IN is staffed by military technocrats, who could be described in modern parlance as system analysts, the cloak and dagger stuff is the preserve of operational cells and forces, dedicated to the mission. Those exclusively set up for J&K have been periodically wound up and then re-created with the aim of causing confusion. During Zia's time, a special cell was established for Afghanistan which had under it deputy directors responsible for political affairs, training, arms distribution and refugees. This was disbanded after the Jallalabad fiasco. Although no precise information is available, it is believed that a similar cell was created for imparting training and distribution of arms to the Sikh extremists and it continues to be active.

Another field in which the ISI has been highly successful, is gathering of signal Intelligence. This mission is assigned to JSIB (Joint Signal Intelligence Bureau) which has DDs (Deputy Directors) Wireless, Monitoring and Photos on its establishment. The organisation runs a chain of intercept stations along the entire Indo-Pak border, besides providing communication support to the militants operating in the Valley. In the spring of 1992, it was estimated that there were about 200 clandestine radio stations operating on the Indian soil.

JIX is the largest wing, which serves as the secretariat. It co-ordinates the functions of other wings and field organisations, prepares intelligence estimates and threat perceptions, besides giving administrative support to the organisation.

Zia's Contribution to ISI's Growth

It is tragic that in the middle ages, most Islamic politics degenerated and settled down as personal despotism, the egalitarian spirit and appeal of the religion notwithstanding. Aggressive Islamization in Pakistan, true to historical legacy, has proceeded in tandem with Zia's totalitarian statecraft. Zia found in the ISI a useful instrument to synthesise the two with a view to eliminating internal opposition and promoting fanaticism, which inter alia included such insidious ploys as exporting terrorism and conducting raids in the name of jihad. He cleverly manipulated the diverse, yet coterminous aphorism of Khomeini's Islamic revolution and American foreign policy objectives in support of policy of subversion in Afghanistan and when that showed promise, made a grand design to destabilise India.

A strong component of American foreign policy interest at the fag end of the Cold War was to ostracise communist influence in Afghanistan and teach the former Soviet Union a lesson for its interventionist policies. "In pursuance of this objective CIA forged a close relationship with the ISI, through which three billion dollars worth of arms were channelled to the Afghan Mujahideen. Hekmatyar was adopted as the intelligence agencies favourite surrogate to prosecute America's Proxy war against the Soviet Union.” Zia utilised the opportunity not only to rehabilitate his tarnished international image by becoming a front-line warrior against the communist menace but also to settle scores with India.

During Zia's reign, the ISI fuelled the separatist movements in Punjab and Kashmir. In domestic affairs, it acquired a special status and immense power. Experience in Afghanistan, where in collusion with the CIA, It conducted one of the biggest covert operations in the world since the end of the Vietnam war gave its teeth a sharper bite. It luxuriated in joint collaboration with CIA and was privy to arcane ways, learning the latest tricks of the trade. In Afghanistan, it played one group of the Mujahideen against the other and then presided over the assemblage to compose differences and broker accords. It did not spare its mentors, the CIA. Without their knowledge and concurrence, it helped itself to dollars and siphoned off arms meant for Mujahideen to Iran, an arch enemy of the US. When the beans were spilled and the US decided to send a fact-finding and stock-taking board, it fudged records, put Ojhri camp to the torch and destroyed the incriminating evidence.

Internal involvements

In his book, If I am Assassinated, Bhutto charged that the ISI was actively used to spy on him, whereas it had failed miserably when it came to gathering hard intelligence in both, 1965 and 1971 operations. He writes, "How did Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan use the intelligence agencies? Yahya Khan used to the hilt the intelligence agencies for political purposes to divide the politicians and influence the elections of 1979." In the same vein, he repeats, "Ayub Khan also used the intelligence agencies for political purposes to the hilt . . . He tried to prevent my party from getting off the ground.” Narrating the episode when Ayub Khan sought an explanation about the inability of the ISI to locate the Indian Armoured Division, he quotes DG, ISI Brig Riaz Hussain of having replied, "Sir, from June 1964, Military Intelligence has been given political assignments on elections and post-election repercussions."

Bhutto on ISI

Bhutto, in the book If I am Assassinated writes extracts of the White Paper issued by the Zia administration that it "demonstrates its piety with crocodile tears on the role of the intelligence agencies of the State as a political arm of the government of Pakistan People’s Party." He writes that on page 195, the White Papers registers it concern in the following words.. "The role of the intelligence agencies of the State as a political arm of the PPP regime, particularly in relation to the general elections, raises many disconcerting questions. When politics permeates such sensitive institutions as the Intelligence Bureau or the ISI, it naturally deflects them from their prime concern with the State's external and internal security. Political bias against dissenting political parties which are a very necessary component of a democratic society, also tends to complicate and distort the task of State security."

Bhutto refutes the allegations and writes that Lt Gen G Jilanl was DG of ISI before he became President of Pakistan on 20 Dec 1971, that except for him, "all the officials incharge of intelligence at the federal level were arrested on the night of the coup, or within a month of it," that Jilanl was "not touched but on the contrary was sent to the Defence Ministry as its Secretary." He further adds, "This question must be considered in conjunction with Lt Gen Jilanl's successful effort in influencing me to consider the then Maj Gen Zia-ui-Haq for the post of the Chief of Staff in suppression of about six Generals. This is only a fraction of the story. But even with this minimum disclosure I would like to ask who exploited whom? Did the Military Intelligence Chief and his Chief of Staff exploit me or I exploited them?" (emphasis added).

Undoubtedly Bhutto suffered at the hands of the ISI, but he cannot be absolved of his contribution to the breeding of this Frankenstein. Of his own admission, he mooted the suggestion for "the merger of Central Intelligence Agencies into one integrated intelligence department divided into two categories (i) internal and (ii) external. Obviously, he conceived a greater role for the ISI, hoping to keep his position secure by placating the military’s most powerful army, but the chicks came home to roost. It was Zuifiqar, who legalised the ISI's involvement in domestic surveillance, for which he paid heavily. Benazir, too, had wrecked her reputation and suffered a smash-up when she tried to take on the ISI. Today, she is an ardent supporter of the organisation and a collaborator of its misdemeanours.

Proxy War in Kashmir

The extent of Pakistani and Afghan influence on the Islamic transformation of the Kashmiri insurgency is quite clear. In mid-Eighties, Islamic revivalism had taken a "radical political stance", slogans advocating establishment of an Islamic state were publicly raised and received with growing popularity. The population came under the influence of the leadership of Jamaati-islami and Khomeinists. By 1984, an Islamic radicalisation had developed that saw the rise of such movements as JKLF, Kashmir Liberation Front, the Mahaz-e-Azadi and the Liberation League.

By 1985, Jamaat-e-lsiami and Al-Jihad movements had become influential in Kashmir politics. Islamic indoctrination was provided by Jamaat-isiami of Pakistan". This is the same organisation about whose leaders Bhutto had written that, "they show a total ignorance of Islam and betray an un-islamic mentality", they "follow the ways of jahiliyat (imbecility)" and accused them of denouncing Qaid-i-Azam asKafir-e-Azam.

Al Jihad took inspiration from the ideology of the Iranian revolution. It publicly pronounced that "Islamic revolution" was the only way to liberate Kashmir. In a short span of a few years, “there was a marked erosion of the secular Kashmiri personality and a Muslim identity with fundamentalist overtones started emerging rapidly." It lent justification to give the movement “a pan-Islamic character and an extra territorial dimension."

In the early stages, the ISI used Mujahideen infrastructure to help the Kashmiri and Sikh separatists. "At times the assistance was funnelled through Afghan rebel leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-i-isiami group, thus providing 1siamabad with deniability."

The report submitted by the task force to the American Congress mentions creation of a special force, which made its debut in July 1991 and within months perpetuated communal frenzy and accelerated militancy. This was the time when Pak sponsored terrorism was at its peak. The novel feature of the special force is that it has been drawn from those with operational experience in Afghanistan. Officered by mainly Punjabis, the cadre is highly motivated and willing to undertake daring assignments. They have let loose agents provocateur, who freely mingle with government functionaries in the Valley and have been known to use Indian army and police uniforms. Recent events show that they have been effective in creating bad blood between the two arms of the security outfit, pitching one against the other. A hot ploy is to commit atrocities the garb of the security forces, so that the finger of accusation is pointed in the wrong direction.

The report points out that about 20,000 young Kashmiris have been trained and armed in POK in recent years. It dwells at length over the Pakistani involvement in stoking the fire of terrorism and insurgency in Kashmir. "Indeed the very size of the Pakistani training programme is telling," it observes; and goes on to describe the breakdown of the number of trainees in the ISI run camps and their cabal affiliation.

In the manner of Maoist classical approach, 1987 to 1989 marked the first stage of insurgency. It aimed at seeding discontent and creating a nucleus of Islamic militancy; and was characterised by sporadic uncoordinated attacks on soft targets. The insurgents adopted hit and run tactics and avoided direct confrontation with the security forces. "Only expendable, barely trained terrorists were committed." Had the Indian authorities dealt with the insurgents more firmly and nipped the secessionist movement in the bud, the ISI would have suffered a dismal defeat, but the Government dilly-dallied; worst, it openly aired differences within its own ranks on the approach to be adopted. This led to the second stage, more professionalized and better co-ordinated. The assassination of Mirwaiz provided the right kind of opportunity for garnering active support for the terrorists.

In early 1992, the ISI had established a common command over the disparate military arms of organisations that had mushroomed, true to the example set by the Mujahideen of Afghanistan and the general pattern of Islamic militancy elsewhere. It succeeded in the fall of 1991, in mediating and settling an agreement between the military arms of the Hizb-ul- Mujahideen, the Allah Tigers and the Ikhwan-ul-Musalmeen to launch joint and co-ordinated operations. Though somewhat tenuous, the ISI control helped in funnelling arms, ammunition and money to the militants, besides conducting training and indoctrination programmes. The training campus had started turning out more hardened and motivated gangs, well-versed in the use of sophisticated weapons, explosives and radio sets. Whereas a total of 390 cases of terrorism were reported in 1988, the number spurted to 4,971 in 1992. There was a substantial increase in the incidents against the security forces from 6 in 1988 to a high of 3,413 in 1992. The quality and the quantity of arms captured by the security forces, too, is indicative of the growing involution of the ISI. In 1988, only 34 AK-47s (or its later versions), were recovered; the figure went up to a whopping 3,775 in 1992.

The second stage was also marked by the setting up of a number of broadcasting stations in POK. These spewed communal venom and created a "spiral of hatred and violence between the security forces and the masses.” Gremlin broadcasts and mischievous propaganda led to influencing the gullible and the devout, who came out on the streets with increased frequency and virulence. Sada-i-Hurriet became the instrument for hatching and mongering rumours. The fare that it dished out in local languages, is the fertile product of ISI propaganda mill. A notable achievement of the ISI is the influencing of the foreign media like AFP and BBC, whose misrepresentation of happenings in India has seriously affected peace and serenity of minorities and led to escalation of tension in the Valley .

Exporting Terrorism through Sikh Militancy

Pakistan, since its creation, has never been well disposed towards Sikhs. Pakistani writings project Sikhs as barbarians, heap ridicule and pass blasphemous and disparaging remarks about the universally venerated gurus. In early Eighties, the tactics changed though not the attitude. Operation Blue Star provided the long awaited opportunity, which the ISI exploited thoroughly in creating communal fracas in Punjab and fuelling Sikh community's alienation with the government. ISI drew a crafty game-plan, initially designed to supply arms and giving refuge to those who committed crimes in India. Later, the scope was enlarged and an operation codenamed K-2 launched, which inter-alia included training to the estranged Sikh youth in the use of sophisticated arms and explosives, co-ordination with militants operating in the Valley and directing terrorist acts, both, in India and abroad. Terrorism received a fresh fillip with Indira Gandhi's assassination. As for Islamabad, this was a positive "proof of the strategic value of subversion.”

By 1985 the ISI had established a vast training infrastructure for the Afghan resistance movement that could "just as well be used for training and support of other regional groups." Terrorists of Dal Khalsa were chosen for importing advance training in Afghan Mujahideen camps. A few of these trainees were killed in a Soviet raid on an Afghan training camp in Pakistan and highly incriminating documents recovered from them. It was not long before CIA trained Afghan terrorists, too, were inducted into India with the purpose of organising acts of terrorism against members of the Indian government and foreign diplomatic representatives.

There was a strategic motive too, highlighted by the US task group's report to the Congress. Pakistan's claims to Kashmir tempted ISI to sponsor and encourage creation of Khalistan. In its calculation, this would make "the Indian defence of Kashmir difficult."" Islamabad was determined to exploit growing tension in Kashmir to destabilise India and, therefore, embarked on an ambitious plan of providing training and military assistance to Punjab militants."

What could be more incriminating evidence of Pak involvement in Punjab than Benazir's own admission that she had Helped Rajiv Gandhi's government in overcoming Sikh militancy? She said this in an interview with the BBC, broadcast on 13 Feb, 1994. Howsoever, she and spokesmen of her government thed to explain away the substance of the interview, the import of this "confession", as Nawaz Shahef described her faux pas, is not lost on the international audience.

ISI's Activities in the Neighbouring Countries

Elsewhere in India and other countries of South Asia, ISI is no less active. It has resurrected its old contacts, which it had assiduously cultivated in erstwhile East Pakistan and which collaborated with Pak occupation forces during the Bangladesh struggle for independence. At a press conference in Shillong at the conclusion of the 37th meeting of the North Eastem Council, the Home Minister accused Dhaka of providing a base to the ISI for its operations. Although Bangladesh has feigned ignorance and denied the charge, it appears from Mr Chawan's categorical statement, that his ministry has incontrovertible evidence of Bangladeshi complicity in promoting the activities of the ISI to disrupt peace in insurgency hit north east. He observed that, "it is unfortunate that even some officers in uniform have imparled training to the militants of the region to create large-scale law and order problem." His warning that unless Bangladesh government desists from supporting ISI, it could "create problems between the two countries," is timely and may invoke salutary effect.

The Republic Day plot was detected just in time by the Indian counter intelligence. The trail led to Dilshed Mirza Beg, a Member of Parliament in Nepal, belonging to Sadbhavana party. He has acted as a conduit for supplying weapons and explosives to a network of agents, spread all over India. Some links and moles have been identified; arrests too have been made, but this may be only a tip of the iceberg. Recent explosion in Odeon cinema in the capital appears to be the handiwork of ISI agents. Whereas Delhi, Secunderabad, Bombay, Lucknow and towns in J&K and Punjab are kept under watch, it is well nigh impossible to cover the entire country. The ISI has both resources and design to create mischief anywhere in India.

Anti-India Lobbying in Britain and the US

Britain, Canada and the US have become important centres for lobbying and fund raising for anti-India activities, organised by the ISI. In Britain there has been a sudden spurt in the number of Muslim charities, not dedicated to purely humanitarian aims. The Guardian named two of these organisations, The "Young Muslims" and "The Islamic Foundation". The latter is headed by Prof. Khurshid Ahmed who is vice president of Jammat-i-isiami which has promoted extremism in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Khalistan lobby in the US is no less active. The case of Dr Badett is a cogent example. On 11 Feb he along with 28 Congressmen, initiated an appeal to the President, urging him to pressure the Indian government into letting Amnesty International investigate alleged human rights abuses in Punjab. The letter to Clinton was released by the Council of Khalistan. It accused the Indian government of brutal repression against the Sikh nation. The signatories say "We are concemed at the bloodshed in Punjab, Khalistan and the human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, be permitted to investigate human lights violations in the Sikh homeland."

Last year, Bariett had opposed an anti-India resolution promoted by the well known India basher Mr Den Burton. Badett's turnaround is attributed to active courting by the Khalistani lobby, exhorted by the ISI. The Khalistanis have promised hefty contributions to Bariett's election campaign against Neil Dhillon a democratic candidate, in the battle of hustings for the Maryland Constituency distinct constituency.

Concluding Remarks

The US may turn a Nelson's eye to the macabre doings of the ISI and for political expediency show reluctance to declare Pakistan a terrorist state, but the bitter truth rancours. "US sources support the assertion that Washington was well aware of Pakistan's involvement with militant Sikhs during the 80s but were reluctant to make an issue of it for fear of jeopardising the campaign to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. Canadian intelligence sources confirm that neither the Federal Bureau of Investigation nor the CIA provided any useful assistance during the investigation of Kanishka bombing. Prosecutors in World Trade Centre case argue that the conspiracy was actually hatched in Peshawar.

What happened in Afghanistan is being repeated in Kashmir. There are as many "Azaadi” groups as was the motley that constituted Mujahideen. God forbid if they too achieve their objective, the fate of Kashmir will be no different from that of Afghanistan. Pakistan will exploit every opportunity to rip the secular and multiethnic fabric of the country. Their capacity to fish in the troubled waters of the north east as ISI has done in Kashmir, is an ominous warning. But the seeds of discord can only sprout where there is social inequity and political indifference. The government cannot depend merely on letters of protests to Pakistan or the meagrely funded counter-intelligence to meet the challenge posed by the ISI. It will be highly desirable to involve the people and build their resistance to exploitation. For that, it is necessary that genuine grievances of the venerable section of the society are removed and elements that have been alienated, brought back to the fold.


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