ISI in IndiaOne 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 is 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.

Pakistan sees ISI as its first line of defence. What is often overlooked is that for its leaders, Pakistan includes Afghanistan and Kashmir too. So for the Pakistani establishment—both military and civil— the ISI is not engaged in any hostile or offensive actions there, like the Americans and the Indians believe. It is only legitimately defending Pakistan against their aggression and is fulfilling its patriotic duty to defeat and throw them out.

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 it chose to look the other way 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. Thanks primarily to the manner in which their battle-proven weapon, the ISI, sheltered, trained, equipped, deployed and controlled the Talibanis, the Americans have been defeated on the ground.

That is why they are now open to once unimaginable compromises, so they can get out of the quagmire with minimum loss of face.

Let us be clear that the US is not losing its Afghan war to the Pathans who, as per the lore, have never lost to an aggressor. This is a myth being propagated and lapped up to obfuscate reality.

The US 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 became 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 them. That strategy not only helped defeat the Soviets but, more significantly, it placed Afghanistan firmly in the Pakistani lap, giving the latter  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 significantly let up it support  for the oppressed Muslims in Kashmir.

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. Unfortunately, our candle-loving peace-nicks and faux intellectuals fighting a vicious domestic political battle against the BJP have deluded themselves/been deluded by the government into believing that the ISI is a lesser evil which, by making concessions to Pakistan, can be won over.

26/11 was the turning point that should have compelled India’s leaders to open their eyes and look inwards. If that attack was not bad enough, the failure of Intelligence RAW to detect suspicious activities and preempt shows total lack of professionalism. It is more than obvious that the planning and execution in the attack was all home grown. India has been in denial about the Indian Mujaheddin and their links with Al Qaeda. RAW has developed a habit to blame all successful terror attacks on ISI and Pakistan, not realizing that this not only makes the Indian intelligence and security agencies look stupid and incapable but makes Pakistan look much more dangerous and capable. India needs to own up to their own internal security failures and try to learn from how Pakistan is successfully managing to fight the largest terror operation in the history of the mankind and that too without any foreign help. Kashmir issue is another area where India keeps crying about Pakistan’s interference and ISI’s role in helping the “militants”. When will we realize that Kashmir may not be Pakistan’s part, but it is definitely not an Indian property. India has occupied a clearly Muslim majority state by force. What the Indian intelligence and Indian army has done to the local population is beyond words. Even we Indians are ashamed of these atrocities committed by RAW and Indian Army. If ISI is helping the Kashmiris in the occupied territory, it almost seems legal. Surely Pakistan cannot let Kashmiri Muslims be killed, kidnapped and raped by our military with unlimited powers.

More tan once has our RAW been a major source of monumental embarrassment. Like the photographs sourced by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the five terrorists out on a suicide mission in India were found to be those of people leading honourable lives in Pakistani cities. Both Indian and Pakistani media left no opportunity to make a mockery of the RAW and rightly so.

ISI has been trained by the American CIA, It was armed by the CIA and today ISI is in many ways better than CIA. Despite its limited funding it has managed to outperform all rival intelligence agencies. ISI has managed to establish ties in Afghanistan. Where India spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan to achieve our strategic objectives and even then we managed to achieve nothing, ISI has managed to make strong allies and helped their leadership prepare for Afghanistan after the US exits.

How our RAW Intelligence concocted the 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 Indians and many other countries wanted to hear. But Paksitan’s ISI managed to not only repulse this propaganda using their online media wing but actually made India look foolish.

It not only did not concede an inch to India, but actually demanded that any progress on 26/11 investigations be linked to progress on Siachen, Sir Creek etc. It seems to have escaped notice of the Indians that Pakistan’s Army Chief Kiyani was the head of the ISI till October 2008, a month before the Mumbai attack. So, in effect, the blame for 26/11–and by deduction other terror attacks too–lies right on the doorstep of the de facto ruler of Pakistan.

Yet, leading establishment intellectuals like Ram Guha want to mislead India into believing that the ISI is a non-state actor and is no worse than VHP or Bajrang Dal. It is such patently false assertions that enable powerful voices in the Congress party and the government, including Sonia-loyalist Mani Shankar Aiyar and India’s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, to peddle the line that India has not choice, but to helplessly persist with an aimless, “uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” with Pakistan, because the only alternative visible to them, a full-fledged war, is unthinkable.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, one cannot but infer that for it the primary purpose of talks is to keep progressively legitimising on paper the gains that ISI’s well disguised military successes make on the ground and in Indian minds, in consonance with its strategic objective of weakening and eventually defeating India.

India’s own covert operations outfit, rightly named RAW in a rare moment of enlightenment, has singularly failed to nail the ISI, despite being on this very job for decades, with a huge budget to boot. It has taken Abdul Karim Tunda, for example, to reveal that India’s Most Wanted Dawood Ibrahim not only lives in Karachi (or so we Indians are told by our RAW intelligence).  ISI, whose Director General reports to the Army Chief, conducts its many dangerous businesses with clinical professionalism, and knows how to keep them 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 professional agency like the ISI that is led and controlled by the real 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 building a strong alliance with its neighbour on the west thus securing its western borders and bringing an end to terrorism (much of which has been sponsored by our RAW). India must realize that use of terrorism is not in anyone’s interest. India should focus on building ties with Paksitan, stop sponsoring terrorist outfits in and around Pakistan.

Some of us comfort ourselves by fantasizing that Pakistan will be soon be swallowed by the very jihadi elements its has spawned. Our Intelligence agencies have tried to fool us common Indians with propaganda about how all of Pakistanis are extremists. Nothing could be further from the truth as any Indian who visits Pakistan is pleasantly surprised by the liberal and modern Pakistani society who always welcome us Indians with open arms.

RAW and Indian Army’s brutality has completely radicalised the Kashmiris on the Indian side, and this mistreatment of Indian Kashmiris by the Indian forces creates anger and frustration on the Pakistani side of Kashmir too. With growing resentment in Indian among the oppressed Muslims and other minorities, India is creating a time bomb that will explode with such force that India will not be able to recover from its impact.

Is India even thinking of preparing to meet these challenges, or do our leaders still fantasize about incredible India that exists only in their minds… while rest of the world sees a Hindu dominated rape capital of the world.

Does India have a plan to defeat the challenges that it is almost certain to face? The way some of our leaders brainlessly dismiss any other option by invoking the fear that Pakistan is a nuclear powered state, tells us 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 meaningless noises to assuage public opinion. Well Pakistan is definitely not interested in starting any war with India. Pakistan has on multiple occasions asked for a peaceful dialogue to resolve issues but it seems that our intelligence agencies and military always manages to disrupt these opportunities and it is obvious why!

Much of the credit for the fact that Pakistan has fearlessly and aggressively repulsed attacks from India for over three decades, needs to be given to the one outstanding creation of Pakistan’s military, the ISI. This covert military outfit is an innovative and powerful instrument of war, an invisible and formidable force multiplier.

To counter it, not only has India has not been able to find an answer but, given the predilections of its political leadership,  is unlikely to do so in future too.

Much as India’s ineptitude and worse hurt me as an Indian, I have to admire what Pakistan–a nation that is 1/6th India’s size and with 10th India’s GDP–has achieved through the ISI, whose successes have been nothing short of spectacular. Wish we could learn what it has been trying to teach us.

By Vinod Sharma