Thursday, July 22, 2010


One has got to admire Pakistan. Is there any other example in history where a small nation has simultaneously taken on two much bigger countries, one a super power and the other deluding itself into believing that it going to become one along its present trajectory, for such a painful ride, for so long, with barely concealed disdain and deceit?

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.

Pakistanis see ISI as their first line of defence. What is often overlooked is that their Pakistan includes Afghanistan and Kashmir too. So for them, the ISI is not engaged in any hostile or offensive actions there, like the American and Indians believe. It is only legitimately defending Pakistan against their aggression and is doing all that is needed to defeat and throw them out. Add to its armoury the powerful tool of jihad and you have brilliant and motivated minds employing perfectly brainwashed foot soldiers itching to fight to death or blow themselves up for a cause they are made to see as religious and holy, not political.

When the US invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, it probably thought it was going for a stroll in a park bombed flat by it. Actually it would have. But it failed to factor in Pakistan's tenacity and duplicity, or may be chose to ignore it because expanding the war was not an option. Either way, the Pakistanis assessed the situation far more accurately than the Americans thought they were capable of, put the ISI on the job, and the net result is that the Americans have got into a deep hole and are now desperately looking for a way to get out without loss of face.

Thanks to manner in which the ISI sheltered, trained, equipped and controlled Talibanis have hounded American troops and ground their offensive to an embarrassing halt, the US is now ready to hand over power -- shared if you find that uncomfortable -- to the very guys that it sent its troops to defeat and destroy. Laden and Mullah Omar remain untraceable still. Hillary Clinton can keep saying that she believes that elements in the Pakistan government and military know their whereabouts. Pakistan not only does not give a damn, at the end of the day it even gets a $500 million cheque from her! That is how confident Pakistan's leaders are of the ability of the ISI to conceal elephants right under America's nose.

The US is not losing its Afghan war to the Pathans who, as per lore, have never lost to an aggressor. This is a myth being propagated and lapped up to obfuscate reality. It is being defeated by a very clever and determined Pakistan. The divided Pashtuns were trounced by the ISI after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, without a bullet being fired. From wanting to wrest from Pakistan Pashtun areas on its side of the Durand Line, Afghan Pashtuns have become Pakistan's pathetic pawns, thanks primarily to the violent extremist Islamic ideology that the ISI sowed in them when the Soviets invaded their country and the manner in which the ISI deeply infiltrated into and controlled the Taliban. That helped defeat the Soviets alright but, more significantly, placed Afghanistan firmly into the Pakistani lap, giving it the strategic depth that it was looking for then and is well on the way to recreating now.

Despite the serious challenge posed by the presence and pressure of the Americans in Afghanistan, the ISI has not let up it campaign in Kashmir primarily though the LeT. Or even in the rest of India. If anything, it has only strengthened it. The tactical reduction in terror attacks there to con the Americans does not mean that there has been any let up in the strengthening of the terror network in India or in augmenting its ability to launch even more devastating attacks when ISI's razor sharp top brass gives the green signal. But, as always, the reduction in violence had the effect of lulling the Indians into complacency, till the Valley erupted again last month in a manner that it simply could not have in select pockets by leaderless, unorganised youth, no matter how 'angry'. The ISI, as has been demonstrated yet again, has developed deep enough roots in the Valley to be able turn on the tap of violence when and in the manner that it wants to. What it would be doing in the rest of India, given Pakistan's oft voiced concern about the condition of Muslims in India, is something that only romantics can skim over.

26/11 was the turning point that should have compelled India's leaders to open their eyes. If that attack was not bad enough, the dramatics that have followed since, starting from denying that Kasab was a Pakistani to mocking India's dossiers as literature and now to its aggressive and insulting reactions after Headley's confessions, should have made the Indians realise that they are dealing with an exceptionally clever, ruthless and never-say-die leadership that will use every means at its disposal to put pressure on India to make fatal concessions on Kashmir. It will not let, forget ask, the ISI to take its foot even slightly off the terror pedal in and against India. But, just as the Americans failed to learn the right lessons from what Pakistan was doing to India, the Indians seem to have failed to learn too from it has done to the Americans in Afghanistan.

Headley's startling exposure that the 26/11 attack was controlled and coordinated by the ISI from start to finish, and that the attackers were trained by Pakistan's Navy, was the sort of information that Pakistan would have twisted with a knife in India's gut had India's RAW been the guilty party. But what did Pakistan do? It not only did not concede an inch to India during the recent talks in Islamabad at the Foreign Minister level, it actually demanded that any progress on 26/11 investigations be linked to progress on Siachen, Sir Creek etc. Worse, SM Qureshi publicly humiliated a bumbling SM Krishna. Once again, India was caught flatfooted on the negotiating table and left not only defeated but feeling guilty for it!

It to seems to have escaped notice of the Indians that the de facto ruler of Pakistan, Army Chief Kiyani, was the head of the ISI till October 2008, a month before the Mumbai attack. So, in effect, Headley lays the blame for 26/11, and by deduction other terror attacks too, right on his doorstep. That is so damning that it is a wonder that India still believes that it can smoke the peace pipe with a leadership that sees and promotes acts of war committed covertly as the only way to resolve all disputes, short and long-term, in its favour. As far as Pakistan is concerned, one cannot but infer that the only purpose of talks is to keep progressively legitimising on paper the gains that ISI's well disguised military successes make on ground and in Indian minds.

More damning than Headley's revelation is the realisation that India's own covert operations outfit, rightly named RAW in a rare moment of enlightenment, failed to nail the ISI in such manner, despite being on this very job for decades, with a huge budget to boot. This is further proof that the ISI conducts its dangerous business with clinical professionalism and knows how to keep it under wraps from amateur Indian eyes. 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 that is directly led and controlled by the rulers of Pakistan.

All this bodes ill for India. Once Pakistan achieves the primacy it is on its way to in Afghanistan, all but drives India out from there, and makes full use of the infrastructure that India's much touted 'soft power' has created in that country, the ISI's energies, spurred by its spectacular success in Afghanistan, will focus almost wholly on India. Some of us comfort ourselves by fantasising that Pakistan will be soon be swallowed by the very jihadi elements its has spawned. What makes us believe that its leaders are so against that happening? If they have completely radicalised Afghanistan and almost achieved the same in the Valley, why would they be wary of gradually Islamising the whole of Pakistan too in the same manner? It is not a few thousand fighters of the Taliban or the LeT, radicalised and controlled by the ISI, who will run over Pakistan's half a million strong Army. Logically, it is the Army itself that will adopt the ideology that already drives the ISI at some point of time.

Is India even thinking of preparing to meet these challenges or do our leaders still fancy that the only way to defend India and protect it is to sit across the table and make one concession after the other? Does India have a plan to prevent and/or defeat the challenges that it is almost certain to face? The way some of our leaders brainlessly dismiss any other option, no matter what Pakistan does, by invoking the fear that Pakistan is a nuclear powered state, tells a story that the Pakistanis have read Indian minds well and know that they can get away with everything short of a declared war and that India will do little more than make some meaningless noises to assuage public opinion.

The ISI is the outstanding product of their near perfect appreciation that has been proved unerringly right for decades. It is an innovative and powerful instrument of war, an invisible and formidable force multiplier, that has already brought US troops to the brink of defeat. At the same time it is relentlessly chipping away at India's weak will, to counter which India has not been able to find an answer till now and is not going to find one in future too. Much as India's ineptitude hurts me as an Indian, I have to admire what Pakistan has achieved through the ISI even in near impossible situations, including the one in Afghanistan. Its successes have been nothing short of spectacular. Wish we could learn a thing or two.
Related reading:
1. India stoned: the enemy is in our midst
2.Dealing with Pakistan: lessons from history
3. Kashmir deal: solution or surrender?
4. A year after 26/11, calls for a strong Pakistan
5. Don't "beggar-my-buggering-neighbour", make him bigger
6. Musharraf's shockers on terror, Kashmir and Indian Muslims
7. The world is changing; Talibani mindset is not