Western journalists are talking of ISIS planning an Armageddon in India. That's pure exaggeration fed by the ISI
After the 27 July terror attacks in Gurdaspur district, India’s celebrated former counter-terrorism police officer KPS Gill said: “We need to keep Pakistan aside – now, the attention should actually be on ISIS. I feel Pakistan’s state is subservient to ISIS – and the terror attacks in Punjab have undoubtedly been carried out by ISIS.” Around the time the terrorists were battling Indian cops in Gurdaspur, American journalist Sara A. Carter was in possession of a 32-page Urdu document supposedly from the Islamic State and penned these words: “(ISIS) has grand ambitions of building a new terrorist army in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and triggering a war in India to provoke an Armageddon-like end of the world.” Without disrespect to KPS Gill for his extraordinary counter-terrorism service in the 1980s, his claim must be trashed immediately. Both the interpretations by Gill and Carter are false, but India does face a darker threat.
To grasp the emerging threat to India, return to the evening of 1 December, 2009. Speaking at the US Military Academy at West Point, Barack Obama, still in the first year of presidency, unveiled his military strategy for Afghanistan. Obama announced to deploy an additional 30,000 troops, but from the very first sentence he spoke of “conclusion”, “an end to this era of war”, “to end this war”, “to hasten the day when our troops will leave”, “to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011”, and so on. It was decided that after a period of transition, the US and NATO troops would withdraw by the 2014-end, transferring full responsibility to Afghan security forces. The adversaries, the Taliban and their sponsor state Pakistan, too were watching the speech. They began planning their post-2014 strategy which is beginning to materialize now.
In an article in the USA Today, Carter wrote that the document belongs to the Islamic State, but this claim is a big dodge. There are reasons to believe it has been authored by Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which for all ideological and practical purposes is a jihadist organization. One, the ISIS is not in the practice of delivering its publications to journalists. Two, jihadist groups publish their audio, video and text documents on internet jihadist forums and circulate via social media; and in this case this document did not originate via these means. Three, Carter admits that someone inside Pakistan handed this document, which means someone with a larger interest wanted to ensure its publication in the Western media. Four, Carter says the document came from “a Pakistani citizen with connections inside the Pakistani Taliban”, which means it is not from ISIS, as it is ISI not ISIS that has deeper roots among the Taliban factions. Five, senior jihadist media analyst Marwan Khayat, who monitors ISIS-related media sources on a daily basis at the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), says: “I find it very unlikely that ISIS suddenly is talking about causing Armageddon in India when in fact it rarely mentions India or its plans for India in its official publications.”
Also, Carter got the document “reviewed by three U.S. intelligence officials, who said they believe the document is authentic based on its unique markings.” This intelligence assessment means nothing because the jihadist groups, except for their logos, use an identical language, sourcing content from the Koran, hadiths (traditions of Prophet Muhammad) and early Islamic literature. There is additional reason to believe that Carter’s narrative is planted by someone. To illustrate, US media, taking a cue from the White House, continued to teach Americans in recent years that the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban are separate entities. This narrative has been bolstered by leading American newspapers despite the Afghan Taliban issuing several contrary statements, which were compiled by MEMRI over the years.
In November 2011, Sirajuddin Haqqani, refuted US media reports: “We follow directives of the [Taliban] Shura in planning and financial matters. In such a situation, there is no question of running a separate organization, group, or entity [from the Islamic Emirate led by Mullah Mohammad Omar].” A year later, as the American newspapers continued to parrot that Haqqani Network and Afghan Taliban are different, Sirajuddin Haqqani issued another statement in September 2012: “we follow the Emir-ul-Momineen [Mullah Omar] in the framework of Islam, without seeking status or material gain. This is enough to assure the world that our organizational affairs are completely controlled and run by the Islamic Emirate.”On 22 September, 2011, Admiral Mike Mullen, the then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee: “The Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.” Mullen’s and Haqqani’s statements confirm that the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network are the same and part of the ISI.
This Pakistani policy of using jihadist groups has been underway since 1947. In her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, US academic C. Christine Fair writes: “Pakistan’s efforts to employ political Islamists, and later Islamist militants in Afghanistan, began as early as the late 1950s.” Pakistan’s use of jihadists in Kashmir in 1947-48 is well known to Indian readers. The use of jihadists was boosted by a strategy of infiltration as argued by Brig. A. A. K. Niazi, who had served on the Burma front during the Second World War and would go on to surrenderin Dhaka in 1971. Fair quotes Niazi as writing in 1964: “infiltration implies by-passing of enemy posts by relatively small parties which penetrate deep and unseen into the defences and converge at a pre-designated objective”; infiltration “will achieve much better results with far lesser casualties than any other form of attack.”Over half a century since Niazi wrote these words, India is dealing with infiltration of Pakistani jihadists in Jammu & Kashmir every week.
The Pakistani state’s strategy of using jihadists in Afghanistan, Balochistan and India has always been consistent. It is executed by the ISI. While some groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) inspired ideologically by jihad have followed an independent path recently, most jihadist organizations still serve as the ISI’s branches: the Afghan Taliban including the Haqqani Network; Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab led by Asmatullah Muawiya; Jaish-e-Muhammad under Maulana Masood Azhar who was freed by India in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane IC-814; Lashkar-e-Taiba functioning as Jamaatud Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation under Hafiz Muhammad Saeed; Hizbul Mujahideen and a number of jihadist groups led by Syed Salahuddin; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which specializes in anti-Shia killings, especially in Balochistan, and whose members were first to migrate to Syria to work under Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
The ISI’s post-2014 strategy is unfolding several ways. First, on May 19, it emerged that the ISI signed an agreement with the Afghan spy agency National Director of Security, or NDS. The agreement’s objectives included changing the Pakistan narrative in Afghanistan but importantly to allow “joint training and sharing of expertise and experiences”, which meant the ISI could get its agents into NDS. Second, the timing of the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death is interesting, as it seems the ISI could not figure out what to do with him in the emerging regional situation. Interestingly, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s website noted that Mullah Omar “died in April 2013 in Pakistan.” But the Taliban website, to give clean chit to ISI, wrote: Omar “continued to live in Afghanistan and in the previous fourteen years never for a single day did he leave Afghanistan to visit Pakistan.”
Third, a video of nearly a dozen armed Kashmiri youths shot in a forest has appeared. There is a rise of in the number of Kashmiris joining not ISIS but Pakistan-sponsored militancy in Kashmir. Speaking on the Kargil Vijay Diwas –the anniversary of India’s victory on July 26, 1999, in Kargil war, arguably the largest jihadist war against India in recent memory – Lt.-General DS Hooda, the chief of the Northern Command, said that more Kashmiris are joining militancy now. He added: “[in 2014] about 60 local recruits, mostly from south Kashmir, and this year, about 30-35 is the figure that we have [of youths joining militancy]… it is a matter of concern when young people have now slowly again started picking up the gun because two-three years back, the numbers were single digit – five, six or seven.”Fourth, the 27 July attacks in Gurdaspur are an attempt to take the jihadist war out of Kashmir to the rest of India. The ISI tried to implement this template in recent years through the Indian Mujahideen which has been contained for now.
Fifth, the document Carter got hold of is alleged to be belonging to ISIS, but it is not. It is an ISI document especially as it “seeks to unite dozens of factions of the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban into a single army of terror”, as Carter noted. It must be mentioned here that the Afghan Taliban and the ISIS loyalists are currently engaged in fighting, not uniting. In fact the Taliban became so worried about ISIS loyalists’ advances in some Afghan provinces that they wrote an open letter on 15 June to ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi urging him not to intervene in Afghanistan, saying: “We already face many conspiracies from the Kuffar[infidels]; your supporters should do nothing that will break up the mujahideen’s power.”
It is not ISIS but the ISI that is seeking to unite all Taliban factions and have them inserted into the Afghan government through staged talks. The ISI tried this template on 16 April, 2011 when a delegation of “all” top Pakistani leaders visiting Kabul demanded that Pakistani nationals be appointed in Afghan government institutions, as it was done during the 1990s. Some of these jihadist groups will be used against India in coming years. Before Carter, another US journalist who fell to the ISI-engineered narrative is Seymour M. Hersh, who in an article dated May 21, in the London Review of Books, sought to give a clean chit to ISI by observing that it helped the CIA reach Osama bin Laden, arguing in other words that Pakistan army wasn’t responsible for hiding the Al-Qaeda leader in Abbottabad. The ISI goes on to a great length to evolve its narrative, one of the most recent attempts being to develop a plot in Burdwan district: to have Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s assassination executed from terrorists coming from Indian soil so that India stops blaming Pakistan for the 2008 attacks on Mumbai.
Sixth, Pakistan is engaged in a military operation called Zarb-e-Azb (Strike of the Prophet’s Sword) in North Waziristan, which it uses to hoodwink international public opinion. The timing of the operation is important. Onwards from the 30 December, 2009 suicide bombing at CIA’s base in Khost, Pakistan withstood all US pressure to act against the jihadists’ stronghold in North Waziristan. Sometime from the mid-2010, it looked real that the US could fire drones into North Waziristan. It worried the ISI so much that it moved the Afghan Taliban commanders, especially the Haqqanis, to a new sanctuary in Kurram Agency around September 2010.The ISI had adopted the same tactic in October 2009 by moving Mullah Mohammad Omar from Quetta in Balochistan to Karachi after it feared that some US drones could be diverted to kill him.
Last year as the ISI achieved clarity on its post-2014 strategy, Pakistan army finally launched Zarb-e-Azb, with its strategy being: to fight against the ideologically motivated groups like the TTP and co-opt those from the TTP who were willing to join ISI’s network. The first indication of this strategy emerged in September 2014 when the ISI co-opted Asmatullah Muawiya, the Punjabi Taliban chief. Muawiya split from the TTP to join the ISI, saying: “We took this step in the larger interest of Islam and the [Pakistani] nation.”Some TTP commanders like Khan Saeed Sajna fell in line. In August 2014, journalist Kahar Zalmay wrote that the ISI engaged Sirajuddin Haqqani to get Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur into its arm. Non-compliant jihadists are removed, most recently on 28 July when Lashkar-e-Jhangvi chief Malik Ishaq was killed in a staged police encounter; Ishaq wasn’t cooperating with ISI and was ideologically inclined to join ISIS.
Christine Fair writes that she was told by a former Pakistani army chief: “Pakistan’s generals would always prefer to take a calculated risk and be defeated than to do nothing at all.” This is contrast with the Indian civilization. In the recent past, Pakistan tried to implement the template from the Palestinian intifada in Kashmir, using stone throwing as a means of protest. This was a continuation from the 1980s when the ISI emerged victorious in Afghan jihad and planned a mayhem in Kashmir during the 1990s. After the 9/11 attacks delegitimised Kashmir jihad, the ISI created the Indian Mujahideen to take the fight to the heart of India. When President Obama was delivering his speech in 2009, the ISI was planning its post-2014 strategy.
Even in the run-up to 2014-end, the ISI had been lining up the anti-India jihadists. In October 2012, jihadist leader Fazlur Rehman Khalil, who founded the Harkatul Jihad Al-Islami and is now chief of Ansarul Ummah which runs from a mosque in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of Pakistani army, warned: “Kashmir jihad will resurge” like the Arab Spring. In March 2013, Mushtaq Zargar, one of three terrorists freed by India in the 1999 hijacking of IC-814, emerged from over a decade of hiding, warning: “We still run [jihadist] training centres on both sides of the LoC [Line Of Control]: Nothing has changed on the ground”; “India must remember that the U.S. has been defeated in Afghanistan… India will see what we are capable of.” On January 26, 2014, Masood Azhar addressed a conference in the memory of Afzal Guru in Muzaffarabad. In September 2014, Ayman Al-Zawahiri announced the establishment of Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), which, much like Jaish-e-Muhammad, is the ISI’s long arm against India as argued by this writer in these pages earlier. Also, last month, Hafiz Saeed was recruiting potential youths in Syria, in the Burmese refugee camps in Indonesia, and among Palestinians in Gaza.
By August 2015, the ISI is in total control of the following: Afghan Taliban including the so-called Haqqani Network; Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab; Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, also functioning as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat; the AQIS; Jaish-e-Muhammad; Harkatul Mujahideen; and Lashkar-e-Taiba. The key argument of this essay is: As a state, India faces a jihadist threat emerging from these state-backed actors. Pakistan views itself in a civilizational struggle against India. Fair says the Pakistani “army has long seen itself as the protector of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology and has come to frame its conflict with India in civilizational terms”. She adds, “Pakistan’s army will insist on action at almost any cost, even that of presiding over a hollow state.” Carter is right in one sense: someone is planning an Armageddon in India. As a society, India faces real threat from home-grown jihadists, and yes ISIS is a real threat but it is not coming from Pakistani state, not as yet. The problem with radicalization is this: it could exploit faultlines in Indian society, especially since most Indians treat India as their mistress: cops can be bought off for 50 rupees; politicians can cash in bribes or cause riots; judiciary functions for the rich; Indians look at our poor with extreme contempt and spit right in the middle of roads. To check radicalization, first get the country’s rule of law and Indian cohesion right.