A detailed history
Pakistan and India have a long history of rivalry in South Asia since independence from the British Empire and they have fought a number of wars in the past few decades. However, their rivalry has evolved into clandestine warfare especially since the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War, which was considered India’s greatest military success and Pakistan’s biggest failure. Guerrilla and proxy intelligence techniques overtook conventional means of warfare in the region, with long-term effects. The premier foreign intelligence agencies of both countries namely the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) have been quite active against each other for a number of years now. This rivalry has its roots in the 1971 war whose details will be briefly highlighted and the history of Indian designs against Pakistan since then shall be discussed.
When East Pakistan broke up and became Bangladesh in December 1971, it was considered as the darkest hour in Pakistan’s history. After the start of Operation Searchlight in March 1971, the military leadership of West Pakistan had underestimated the power of the rebel forces in the former East Pakistan that vowed to break away from the state at any cost due to West Pakistan’s widely documented economic and political negligence. The Indian political and military leadership, under the command of PM Indira Gandhi and General Sam Manekshaw, took advantage of this situation and discreetly backed the rebel forces. Known as Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army), these forces comprised thousands of Bengali origin military officers, soldiers and civilians that were further trained by the Indian army and RAW officers in guerrilla warfare techniques.
The role of RAW in orchestrating terrorism across Pakistan was often sidelined as a conspiracy theory but has now been proven due to change in the security and economic dynamics of the region
RAW’s involvement in training the Mukti Bahini was quite significant due to the fact that it was only formed three years ago, in 1968, after Indian Intelligence Bureau’s failures in 1962 Indo-China War. As a newly formed external intelligence agency, RAW’s core objective was to secure Indian interests in the region and abroad and the successes it achieved in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 helped it to establish itself as the premier intelligence agency of India. However, Pakistani political leadership’s desire for acquiring nuclear weapons during the late 1970s may have probably forced RAW to focus most of its activities inside Pakistan. It allied itself with the Soviet KGB and Afghan Intelligence KHAD during the Soviet-Afghan War and conducted a number of low-key bombings across Pakistan in response to the ISI’s activities inside Indian Punjab and Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
Looking at the situation from the Pakistani point of view, the role of the ISI in Indian Punjab’s Khalistan Movement was akin to what RAW did in the former East Pakistan. A region fuelled with calls for separatism and Pakistan’s desire for tit for tat response was the perfect recipe for inflicting revenge upon India. Discrimination against and killings of Sikhs by Indian forces, especially after Operation Blue Star and the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, legitimised calls for Sikh militancy that was fully supported by General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. On the other hand, India saw this movement and Pakistan’s secret nuclear weapons program as grave threats to its national security. This led it to conduct a psychological military exercise called Operation Brass Tacks that was aimed at invading Pakistan in the long run. Indian Army Chief General K Sundarji was the key architect for this operation who apparently even kept Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi in the dark about it.
Pakistan was able to avert this looming crisis after it allegedly threatened to launch a nuclear strike on Bombay (Mumbai) should the Indian conventional forces cross the international border. There are also reports that General Zia personally threatened Rajiv Gandhi with ‘grave consequences’ during an Indo-Pak cricket match held in Madras (Chennai), which forced the Indian army to abandon its positions along the international boundary in 1987. This clearly meant that Pakistan already managed to acquire nuclear deterrence in just a decade’s time, which was even confirmed by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan who mentioned that the weapons grade capability was achieved in 1984 despite attempts by India to thwart it. The Khalistan Movement abruptly lost its momentum soon after Zia’s death in 1988 but the ISI backed Kashmir uprisings in June 1989, which meant that troublesome years were ahead for India inside the volatile state.
However, this did not stop India from meddling in Pakistan’s affairs as it continued to train and deploy RAW operatives inside Pakistan; around 35,000 people in 1993 according to some reports. Not only this, it also managed to stir militancy in Balochistan, especially after it secured influence in Kabul in the post 9/11 era through former Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan Northern Alliance. The establishment of Indian consulates along the Pak-Afghan border was perceived to be a great concern for Pakistan that repeatedly asked in vain for their closure due to their secretive nature. Separatist leaders such as Brahumdagh Bugti and Harbiyar Marri openly asked India to intervene. This pointed out the connivance between the militants and RAW that was causing havoc across Balochistan.
Pakistan went through a painstaking situation in the last couple of years owing to violence in the form of both religious and political extremism. The rise of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and other smaller groups caused a large number of casualties across the country. However, recent pattern shows that most of the carnage was actually carried out by RAW that managed to fuel extremism. The Karachi Airport Attack and the Peshawar School Attack in recent times indicated indirect Indian involvement as RAW funded and instructed groups such as TTP and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan through Afghan soil.
General Raheel Sharif and his team in the ISI managed to expose TTP Chief Mullah Fazlullah’s relations with RAW and provided evidence to the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani after various visits to Kabul in the past few months. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel had also admitted a couple of years ago that India was creating problems for Pakistan through Afghanistan. The newly signed pact between the ISI and Afghan intelligence agency National Directorate of Security (NDS) is welcomed by both Pakistan and Afghanistan as joint operations can help prevent terrorism from spreading further.
The recent appointment of Research Allied Services (RAS) Cadre officer Rajinder Khanna as RAW chief by PM Narendra Modi shows that India shall try to further use Islamic extremism in order to foment trouble for Pakistan as Khanna is a known expert on the topic
The role of RAW in orchestrating terrorism across Pakistan was often sidelined as a conspiracy theory but has now been proven due to change in the security and economic dynamics of the region. The spy agency’s clandestine operations are of highly classified nature but it is reported that it has funded a number of journalists, politicians, academicians and NGOs to promote pro-India and even political ethnic stance in Pakistan. In terms of intelligence operations, this is the most viable way to subdue a target country for local informers, operatives and sleeper agents become strategic assets.
We often talk about Islamic extremism that is like a cancer. However, we tend to ignore what the hawks in India’s power corridors have been up to in containing Pakistan, which is quite unfortunate and surprising. Just last year, a video of Indian National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval circulated in the social media in which he was openly telling about his role in Pakistan as a secret agent and how he managed to use Pakistan’s fault lines to India’s advantage by promoting sectarianism and Islamic extremism through terrorist organisations like the TTP and BLA. Not only this, the recent appointment of Research Allied Services (RAS) Cadre officer Rajinder Khanna as RAW chief by PM Narendra Modi shows that India shall try to further use Islamic extremism in order to foment trouble for Pakistan as Khanna is a known expert on the topic. Just some two weeks ago, it was reported that RAW has also designated a special desk in New Delhi to sabotage the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor for which $300 million have been specially reserved.
All of this highlights that Pakistan needs to remain vigilant and provide all evidence of RAW’s activities at every international forum in order to strengthen its diplomatic position. Stability of both Pakistan and Afghanistan means stability of the region, which the hawkish advisers of Narendra Modi need to understand. Any further destabilisation can be catastrophic for the entire South Asian region and it is hoped that Pakistan manages to gain peace through the help of its security and intelligence forces along with help from friendly states. It is in the interest of both states to pursue economic development rather than cause anarchy. A stable South Asia shall not only guarantee peace but also help economic goals to be achieved without any hindrance as the world has entered the phase of globalisation.