The heated debate in domestic and foreign media on ISI as the favourite whipping boy of the powers that be keeps surfacing almost everlastingly. The organisation entrusted with the gigantic task of defending Pakistan against external threats and internal discords has remained in the headlines since its inception. As far as its critique by states and powers hostile to Pakistan’s security is understandable, domestic attacks by India and Western apologist cabal of intellectuals and armchair strategists within Pakistan require more insight into the enigma called ISI.
Pakistan’s geostrategic position is unalterable; approximated by geostrategic giants like China, Russian Federation and India (all of which are nuclear powers as well) and located in the shatter zone of empires, Pakistan’s survival is not only challenging but quite mind boggling for the students of geopolitics. In addition the physical presence of a sole super in the region adds to Pakistan’s geostrategic matrix. An agency designed to safeguard the national interests of Pakistan cannot be expected to do it in a conventional mode and that is true about most of intelligence agencies across the globe.
ISI being one of the prime agencies, with a global rating of excellence, has been in the eye of the storm since early eighties and continues to walk the tight rope in international and domestic media glare. The role of ISI has been acknowledged by friends and foes, an Indian writer, Vinod Sharma, described the role of ISI in an article titled ISI: Pakistan’s Formidable Force Multiplier in the following words:
“Pakistan’s audacity backed by sheer brilliance in execution is the stuff history is made of. That it has been able to pull off a seemingly impossible double is as much a tribute to its leaders, both military and civil, as to the one instrument without peer that they have created: the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). This covert arm of the military has been developed and honed, with some help from the CIA in 1980s, to become a huge force multiplier that has almost re-written the rules of war. It is this institution alone that has given Pakistan the luxury of playing the Jekyll and Hyde game on battlefields of its choosing in a manner that it wants, without exposing its troops to danger and its culpability to the enemy.”
Comparing the two opposing pillars of intelligence in South Asia, Mr Vinod Sharma criticizes RAW’s inherent discrepancie: “Worse is the fact that it exposes another huge and unacceptable chink in India’s armour against Pakistan: RAW is a poorly-led-by-police-officers and driven by babu-culture set up that lacks the political direction, professionalism, commitment and motivation required to face, tackle and defeat a fanatic force multiplier like the ISI. “
RAW’s strength lies in enormous resources at her disposal, a willing political support by the fundamentalist cabal of RSS and BJP, use of Bollywood as her veritable arm of perception management, and age old and tested ideology of Chanakya, who wrote Arthashastra a book of how to practice subterfuge, deceit and deception in state craft. RAW has been able to penetrate Pakistan’s perception management matrix, no doubt she finds her sympathisers attacking ISI and defending Indian narrative within Pakistan with lot of impunity. In our article published in one of Pakistan’s daily, with the title, “RAW, from Palk Strait to Balochistan”, we had highlighted the use of Chanakya’s ideology to destabilise other South Asian states to maintain Indian hegemony. A few excerpts are quoted here for the benefit of readers.
“The arrest of Kulbhushan from Balochistan may have surprised many in the media and political hierarchy; however Indian prime agency RAW’s involvement to destabilise neighborhood of India is nothing new as it is part of a larger Indira Doctrine. One of the clauses of Indira Doctrine stated, “India will not tolerate external intervention in a conflict situation in any South Asian country, if the intervention has any implicit or explicit anti-Indian implication. No South Asian government must, therefore, ask for external military assistance with an anti-Indian bias from any country”.
The promulgation of Indira Doctrine coincided with the implosion of civil war within Sri Lanka converting this tourist paradise into a hell hole for next three decades. The fall of the feared Generalissimo Prabharkaran of LTTE at the hands of gallant Sri Lankan forces in 2009 at Nanthi Kadal ended the three decades of civil war in Sri Lanka. Recapture of Elephant pass by Sri Lankan forces uncovered a trove of RAW’s secret cells and logistic bases which had kept her burning for thirty years.”
RAW’s next big game coincided with US War on Terror in Afghanistan. She exploited the swaths of ungovernable areas of Afghanistan for setting bases with following objectives; support ruthless terrorist organizations like TTP, Lashkar e Jhangvi and Daish etc; penetrate the area west of River Indus including Balochistan to support proxy war against Pakistan, support dissident leadership of BLA etc to sabotage life lines of Balochistan, provide diplomatic support to dissident leaders and organise seminars and conferences in major capitals of the western world to highlight cause of liberation of Balochistan.
The plans also included developing a network of criminals, and terrorist organisations within Pakistan for targeting urban areas, military installations and LEAs and also penetrate militant wings of sub-nationalist parties to make entire cities hostage. Balochistan was targetted because of three major reasons; the deep sea port of Gawader would propel Pakistan into the maritime game of the Indian Ocean and allow it to grow faster than India. Development of mineral and energy resources of Balochistan would give an added advantage to Pakistan and lately CPEC would bypass India as the economic hub of South Asia weakening Indian economic and strategic position vis-a-vis China.
Pakistan’s politically defensive attitude to RAW’s blatant involvement within Pakistan is one reason this agency has operated so freely and ruthlessly on Pakistani soil. Despite the handing over of dossiers to Indian leadership in Sharm al Sheikh, the cozying of top political leadership to Indian overtures has probably convinced Indian establishment that Pakistan was a soft state and its leadership could be taken for a ride behind a smoke screen of Bollywood and smiling Modi.
Indian track record of dealing with her neighbours is not very bright. Pakistan had its share of four wars right from 1948 including dismemberment in 1971, China was engaged in a war across the Himalayas in 1962, Sikkim was absorbed, Srilanka was invaded and subjected to RAW’s proxy war for three decades, Maldives was coerced, Kingdom of Nepal has been isolated through trade embargos and arm twisting and Bangladesh is being exploited by making it a pliant Indian vassal state. Should ISI keep low and wait for fait accompli?
Pakistan has remained on the forefront of the War on Terror and its military has sacrificed enormously to make the region and the world a safer place. If ‘powers that be’ are facing teething problems due to strategic mismanagement of war on terror, Pakistan and her prime intelligence agency cannot be made a scapegoat on the eve of departure of President Obama; the world needs to understand the nuances of changing dynamics in the region. ISI’s role in bringing peace and stability within Pakistan as well as the region should be appreciated and contrasted against RAW’s sinister campaign to destabilise West Asia. RAW’s inability to control indigenous Kashmir freedom struggle has frustrated her designs and the writing on the wall suggests that India has to acknowledge the right of Kashmiris in determining their future. It cannot be sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik.