By M D Nalapat
Organisations controlled by the ISI, such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are encouraged to send hardened operatives to Afghanistan. There, they join the ISIS-linked Wilayat Khorasan.
According to those tasked with responsibilities involving security, the high number of “accidents” involving the Air Force, the Navy, Indian Railways and other institutions vital to national existence have pointed to the need for a comprehensive examination of every individual involved in sensitive tasks, rather than just a few. Also, in practice, the few who get scanned usually come within the radar after they have indulged in activity of a suspicious nature. However, while processes are being improved after Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge in 2014, officials are hesitant to accept the premise of an increasing number of sympathisers of ISIS and other ultra-Wahhabi terror groups biding their time within the governmental machinery, readying themselves to strike when commanded to do so from controllers in Dubai, Karachi and other locations, where a substantial number of ISIS supporters function. Even in the 26/11 carnage of 2008, domestic auxiliaries of the ISI-backed terrorists were not touched, possibly for fear of a political or other backlash. This was despite evidence that individuals within India gave information to ISI handlers about the internal floor plan of the two hotels in Mumbai that were targeted and also revealed details of the floor plan and work habits of volunteers at Chabad House, a location in which members of the Jewish community were specifically targeted. Exhaustive follow up was not done of suspicious individuals who had established contact with the Chabad volunteers weeks before the terror attack in order to get operationally useful information from them and about them.
Even nine years later, several officials are reluctant to accept the view of diligent police officers in Bihar that the ISI is behind the spike in railway accidents, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi began in 2015 to implement a much tougher line towards GHQ Rawalpindi than his predecessor. The reason is that such a finding would necessitate a scan of the thousands of railway and other staff concerned with maintenance and other functions relating to passenger safety. For much the same reason, evidence has been brushed aside that at least a few of the “pilot error” crashes in the Indian Air Force and the “accidents” occurring in naval vessels were due to planned acts of sabotage, sometimes carried out in-house by individuals who had been indoctrinated or otherwise motivated to obey instructions emanating from GHQ Rawalpindi. Security experts warn that there needs to be an assessment of not just online patterns and contact lists, but any spike in spending or travel of all those associated with maintenance and other sensitive functions in cases where naval vessels or military aircraft have been lost as a consequence of “accidental malfunction”.
In the US, over the past two years, there has been an undeclared but comprehensive examination of the online habits, friend lists, travel done, spending patterns and outside contacts profile of all—repeat, all—those within the military seen as being susceptible to recruitment by the ISIS and other ultra-Wahhabi groups. In India, security experts point to the need for a comprehensive and systematic trawl of the internet surfing, travel, spending and social contact patterns of those within both military as well as civilian organisations, who are involved in tasks essential to security. In the absence of such a secret but 360-degree examination, information will remain sketchy on their private travel patterns, internet surfing and the list of friends outside their parent service. Instead of focusing on a few core groups, the tradition has been to cast a much wider surveillance net. Such an expanded base involves even the painstaking examination of individuals unrelated to security, with the consequence that those posing an actual danger to the state often slip under the radar.
For reasons of tactical advantage and keeping open funding channels, Al Qaeda units and ISIS often claim to have a hostile relationship with each other, when the reality is that practically all such ultra-Wahhabi terror groups are linked in a Unified Field of Terror (UFT). An example is the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), a terror group openly backed by GHQ Rawalpindi, which set up the Batrasi camp specially to train fighters to conduct terror operations across India, with a special focus on Kashmir. The camp is also known to provide motivational training to intending suicide bombers, who are thereafter exfiltrated to locations in Kashmir, Xinjiang and parts of the Middle East. AQIS (Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent) chief Asim Umar has been in constant (and monitorable) contact with the ISI since 1995, when he left his home district of Moradabad in UP and joined the Jamia Uloom in Karachi, whose mentor is Masood Azhar, who is under the protection of China in the UN Security Council. Subsequently, Umar was transferred to Daul Uloom Haqqani in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, an institution that boasts terrorists of the notoriety of Sirajudden Haqqani and Mansour Akhtar. On the instructions of the ISI, Umar has trained and inducted nearly three dozen Indian nationals into AQIS. The organic link between AQIS and the ISI was most recently outed in 2015, when US investigators filed a proceeding against HuM founder Fazlur Rahman Khalil, revealing details of his contacts with senior officers in the ISI, all of whom remain unsanctioned by Washington under the Bush-Obama doctrine of giving a free pass to GHQ Rawalpindi in its terror operations, a doctrine that is likely to be re-examined, now that Donald John Trump has been elected the 45th President of the United States.
In 2016, on the instructions of the self-declared “ISIS Caliph” Abubakr al Baghdadi, Asim Umar called on Wahhabi groups in India to launch “lone wolf” attacks on officials in India. According to security experts, AQIS is the preferred platform of choice of the ISI in its drive to recruit hundreds of volunteers in India. These could be trained, incentivised and made to carry out acts of sabotage and violence across India, such as causing railway accidents and fomenting communal violence through actions that infuriate specific communities against another. It needs to be reiterated that induction into ISI-linked modules is not restricted only to Muslims, but include Hindus and Christians as well. In Nepal for example, almost all key ISI modules are manned by members of the Hindu community. Hence, such provocative acts may also get carried out by ISI-linked Hindus in order to poison communal relations in the manner of the 1930s. GHQ Rawalpindi has made no secret of its objective to avenge the creation of Bangladesh by ensuring that bits and pieces of India gain effective independence from the Union of India, with Kashmir, the Northeast and now Tamil Nadu and Bengal being focal points of attention in furtherance of this strategy.
Because of the silence of US authorities (at least during the Bush-Obama period), the ISI has been open about its links with ISIS and related groups. Organisations controlled by the ISI, such as the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) are encouraged to send hardened operatives to Afghanistan. There, they join the ISIS-linked Wilayat Khorasan (WK). There is both an ISI-WK as well as an ISIS-WK in Afghanistan, the former entirely funded and run from GHQ through the ISI, especially its S-Wing. Because of ISI-controlled Safe Zones (for terrorists) in Afghanistan and in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, several Indian nationals have been directed there by the ISI and thereafter sent back to India to await further orders. It may be mentioned that both the narcotics trade and hawala operations in India are run by the ISI, often acting through agents based in Bangkok, Dubai and Cyprus.
Those involved in security-related tasks are hopeful that the forthcoming meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald Trump will zero in on the links between the ISI and ISIS, so that this partnership gets weakened and finally broken up before more damage can be done to either the US or India. In the meantime, they call for a comprehensive scan of those involved in sensitive tasks such as safety and maintenance of military and core civilian assets, so that further unexplained “accidents” on rail, sea and air may be averted.