Sources say that ISI has recommended that six or seven individuals identified by the agency as Indian agents be sent, rather than those actually guilty.
Officials outside India, who are involved in counter-terror operations, warn that GHQ Rawalpindi is planning a “betrayal” on the issue of sending the actual planners of the 2 January 2016 Pathankot terror strike to India. They claim that the ISI has recommended that six or seven individuals identified by the agency as agents of India be sent, rather than those actually guilty, thereby daring authorities in India to put these innocents on trial and execute them on the charge of being perpetrators of the terror attack on the airbase in which six of the attackers lost their lives.
Such a betrayal would occasion no surprise among those who have tracked the operations of GHQ Rawalpindi for three decades. Although officials remain silent over the fatalities caused by the Pakistan army GHQ covert war on India, which began in the 1980s, those familiar with the situation say that “an estimate of 200,000 killed in acts of terrorism, insurgency and hate crimes fomented in this country from across the border would be accurate”. Trackers of terror say that the Pakistan army, despite periodic words of reassurance designed to soothe Washington, has “not slackened its activities in India and is, on the contrary, reinforcing them for a big push during the next two years”. Meanwhile, Delhi has continued with the three-decade-long policy of pointing out to the Pakistan establishment the misdeeds of GHQ, especially its covert operational wing, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
In the 1980s, then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent multiple overt and secret missions to Pakistan with evidence of GHQ’s activities in the Punjab. Such information included lists of individuals known to be funding, training and equipping those engaged in the Khalistan terror insurgency. Each was met by a denial or a “we will get back to you” response. Finally, after it became clear that Pakistan would do nothing besides a few anodyne statements and vague commitments that were ignored in practice, a decision was taken by Rajiv Gandhi to brief important world capitals about such activities—but in the midst of the Afghanistan conflict, when Washington, Beijing, Riyadh and London were assisting religious extremists to battle the Soviet Union, these entreaties went unanswered in practice.
Instead of assistance to quell such actions, increased pressure was brought on India by the US and its allies not to intensify, but stop necessary police and army operations against Pakistan-trained irregulars in the Punjab. By the close of the 1980s, when it became clear that Moscow was soon going to pull out of Kabul, GHQ Rawalpindi began a programme of training youth from the Kashmir Valley in armed combat and terror operations, and in creating a climate of intolerance against the Hindu minority in the Valley. Those involved in operations during that period say that there was almost “zero interest” in Delhi at devising ways of preventing Kashmir from going the Punjab way, especially after V.P. Singh took over as Prime Minister on 2 December 1989. Counter-measures against GHQ became reinforced only after the coming to office of the Narasimha Rao government in 1991.
Once the ISI’s Kashmir front became fully operational by 1993, once again the Government of India busied itself sending huge volumes of information to Pakistan, the US, the UK, China and other countries about what was taking place in the state. By 1991, when the Narasimha Rao government took office, as many as 1,200 Kashmiri youths had been trained in terror and mayhem in camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, a number which ballooned to 6,000 by 1995. Indian agencies dutifully compiled lists of those trained by the Pakistan army, again to no avail.
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel implemented the Clinton administration game plan of forcing India to concede the Kashmir Valley to Pakistan, or at the least to cease defensive operations against the armed groups operating there. Unsurprisingly, not a single Pakistan-trained terrorist was handed over despite conclusive evidence of their location and previous terror activities in India. Although the Indian Army has been accused by pro-Islamabad and pro-Wahhabi groups worldwide of being solely responsible for the 96,000 deaths in Kashmir during the armed phase of the conflict, in reality, almost all the killings were done by terror groups so as to intimidate and overawe the local population, much of whom remained wedded to Kashmiriyat and who, therefore, refused to join actively in the armed struggle. Earlier in the Punjab as well the overwhelming majority of the Sikh population showed their loyalty to India by rejecting calls by Pakistan-based groups to participate in the conflict on the Khalistan side. Ultimately, the courageous Sikh soldiers in the armed forces and dedicated Sikh policemen were the decisive force in ensuring that the effort by GHQ to separate the Punjab from India failed.
Incidentally, apart from the Kashmir cauldron peaking, 1993 was also the year when a home-grown operator, Dawood Ibrahim, perpetrated the killings of dozens of individuals in Mumbai. Despite UN and US designations as an “international terrorist”, despite dossiers regularly presented to authorities across the globe, Dawood Ibrahim is leading the comfortable life of a multi-millionaire, and is unlikely to be voluntarily surrendered by Islamabad to India. Indeed, the authorities in Delhi were unable to persuade or pressure Pakistan to release even a single D-Company, Hizbul Mujahideen, Kashmiri or Khalistani terrorist from Pakistan. Instead, the flow was in the reverse direction, as with Masood Azhar being released and sent to Pakistan after the 1999 Kathmandu hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft. Azhar repaid the favour done by the A.B. Vajpayee government by forming the Jaish-e-Muhammad and perpetrating the 2001 attack on Parliament, thereby sparking off a fresh round of effort to get him to India, with no success thus far. In 2008, after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, agencies in India launched an international manhunt for Hafiz Saeed. The hunt was carried out through Track 1 and Track 2 dialogues, dossiers, diplomatic missions and much else, and again came out with a zero score. After the 2016 attack at Pathankot, once again a renewed effort has begun by authorities in India to get back Masood Azhar.
Hopefully, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get back the individual whom Prime Minister Vajpayee freed.
Officials tracking Pakistan say that authorities in that country, who are involved in terror operations in India, “intensify Track 2 diplomacy, as well as pump additional funds to select NGOs to divert attention away from Pakistan to internal issues in India”. This took place despite multiple efforts by Delhi to regularise the relationship between the two countries. According to international experts, such indifference on the part of the military establishment in Pakistan to rolling back terror operations in India are continuing despite the efforts of the Narendra Modi government to create a climate of peace and trust with India’s troublesome neighbour to its west. This sincerity was shown, for example, by the Bangkok talks of 6 December 2015, in which National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval led the Indian side. On 25 December last year, Prime Minister Modi surprised the world by calling on his counterpart in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, at Lahore. Modi ignored warnings by his security team and decided to take a risk for peace by going impromptu to a country whose military was in continuous conflict with India since the time when India (and Pakistan) became free countries. However, in a message to both Modi as well as Nawaz Sharif, within a week of the history-making visit, Pathankot happened. Fortunately, the multiple killings planned by controllers in Pakistan failed to take place, because of the gallantry of the men in uniform.
It was pointed out by officials that the much heralded gesture by Islamabad of “warning” India that 10 terrorists have sneaked into the county is an “empty gesture”, which will enable Pakistan to deflect blame for a future attack by saying “we told you so”. Stopping such terrorists in Pakistan before they enter India to strike would be a much more genuine show of good faith, but this GHQ is unwilling to do. All that it is ready to give are cosmetic gestures, they point out, adding that such empty actions are enough for those still having illusions that the Pakistan army has walked away from its efforts at Balkanizing and bleeding India.
These international experts say that as a further gesture of goodwill to the Pakistan side, it is understood that the involvement of GHQ Pakistan in the Dina Nagar attack in Gurdaspur and the arrest of LeT operative Naved were not followed by India asking Pakistan to allow an investigating team (for these two incidents) from India to visit Pakistan on the lines of the Pakistan team that is coming to India—including to the Pathankot airbase—to investigate this year’s terror attack on the base, when the actual investigation needs to be focused on Pakistan, the country where the terrorists involved were trained.
Dossiers of these attacks were provided to the Pakistan NSA, who feigned ignorance of both on the usual model of Deny, Deny, Deny. Security experts point out that conventionally, “the police and other agencies where the attack took place should play the lead role in investigations, and not the country of origin of the attackers”. They point out that “had the Pathankot precedent been followed after the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, the Saudis would have been tasked with leading the investigation, instead of being a primary target of enquiry by the victim country”, i.e. the US.
Prime Minister Modi has been a special focus of GHQ, which is worried about the success of the PM’s global outreach and his measures to place the economy of India into double digit growth mode. Consequently, no fewer than 50 suicide bombers have been deployed in attacks that have taken place on Indian diplomatic and security interests since 26 May 2014, including 17 attacks on BSF, CRPF, Army, Air Force and diplomatic missions, even forgetting the multiple smaller attacks that took place in Kashmir during the same period. In the attacks on the Indian consulates in Afghanistan, nearly 20 suicide bombers were used, apart from three dozen in other major attacks within this country itself. Now that Pakistan has been presented with evidence by not just India, but the US as well, Islamabad has admitted that some of the terrorists came from their side, and have registered some cases, even arresting five operatives.
Interestingly, in the Pathankot FIR, the only name mentioned is that of NSA Ajit Doval, whom the Pakistan side wishes to summon as a witness in the trials involving Pathankot. Should the courts in that country issue summons and the Indian NSA—who is globally accepted as an authority on Pakistan—not respond, that could be used to free the guilty. Instead of the NSA, an investigating team from India needs to be given permission to visit Bahawalpur and other locations in Pakistan where Masood Azhar is known to be based. The Modi government can be expected to insist on such reciprocal visits, in exchange for allowing a team from Pakistan to come to India and visit even sensitive installations.
The experts and officials spoken to are pessimistic that there will be “any” change in the approach of Islamabad, “as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has no influence over the military”, the organisation responsible for the India-directed terror factories in Pakistan. They are looking to PM Modi to ensure that Indian agencies be given the robust access to logistics hubs and establishments in Pakistan of the extremist groups as a reciprocal gesture for the unprecedented move by the Government of India to host a team of “investigators” from Pakistan, which is supposed to investigate the Pathankot attack, despite almost all the evidence of planning and directing the attack being on the other side of the border. However, those familiar with the working of the security establishment under Narendra Modi say that the Prime Minister and NSA Ajit Doval are “fully in the loop on the machinations of the ISI” and “are devising measures to ensure that such stratagems fail”.