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Games Intelligence Agencies Play in India and Pakistan

16 July 2010

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Dawn, 15 July 2010

Intelligence and foolishness

by Jawed Naqvi

Activists hold the national flags of Pakistan and India while supporting dialogue between the two countries at a peace rally in Lahore. –Reuters/Mohsin Raza

In a manner of speaking an approximate opposite of real-time intelligence is full-time foolishness. With their foreign ministers due to meet in Islamabad today, India and Pakistan must yet again ponder the seemingly intractable choice between sharing intelligence and suffering each other’s inspired foolishness.

The two prime ministers in their wisdom had agreed last July to share real-time intelligence ostensibly to fight the scourge of terrorism, which threatens both countries. It’s not clear if the home ministers at their recent meeting were as convinced of the need though they did agree to explore cooperation between the federal investigative bodies.

All the talk about jointly or separately fighting terrorism boils down to sharing intelligence. All the discussion about the so-called trust deficit between the two sides has little to do with the way the people of the two countries regard each and every thing to do with the mutual suspicion that exists between the intelligence agencies of the two countries. It was not surprising that the agencies overruled their prime ministers’ initiative in Sharm el Sheikh. It’s a classic double-bind.

In an eerie way, South Asia’s nuclear-armed countries are being increasingly controlled not by their elected representatives but by a shadowy and unaccountable cluster of officials who like Frankenstein’s monster have become a serious threat to the very people they were pledged to serve. Interestingly this perception is more readily shared in Pakistan than in India where it is mostly shunned.

I circulated to my Indian colleagues Kamran Shafi’s invaluable and certainly courageous critique in Dawn this week about the nexus the elected government of Pakistan unwittingly has with the country’s intelligence apparatus led by the ISI. I asked my friends if they could remember any journalist in Delhi’s mainstream press who would critique the pervasive role India’s intelligence agencies now play in virtually every sphere of the republic. They couldn’t give me a single name.

This seems odd but it indicates a degree of cooperation if not connivance that has come about between the media and the murky world of intelligence. How long can the media ignore the elephant in the room? While journalists play havoc with their credibility a warning about the creepy growth of the intelligence menace has come and it came from within the intelligence establishment. The revelations took the form of a diary of a retired former head of the powerful Intelligence Bureau.

“There were and still are several senior officers who pursue their own agenda,” wrote Maloy Krishna Dhar of his IB colleagues in the voluminous book he called Open Secrets. “Some make money out of the sacred national trust, some advance career prospects and a few dabble in ideological pursuits. This is a likely breeding ground for Goerings and Himmlers in the backyard of constitutional democracy.”

What could be a typical ideological pursuit for the odd intelligence officer that Dhar referred to and what are the standard challenges he or she could pose to the agenda of the state? We know about the devastation wreaked by ideologically driven sleuths in Pakistan. The rise of Muslim extremism and its expansion into the most sensitive parts of the state and government can be directly sourced to them. This is perhaps why a section of the Pakistani media displays a greater sensitivity about critiquing the menace.

In India, in spite of the damning revelations by Dhar and one or two others about the secretive intelligence community, there is an entrenched culture of denial. It was only with the efforts of officers like the late Hemant Karkare of Maharashtra’s anti-terror squad that some kind of attention was given to the lurking menace within.

An ideological pursuit that allows a bile-spewing Hafiz Saeed to be seen as an intelligence asset is no different from the indulgence shown towards religiously driven fanatics in Mumbai, Gujarat and elsewhere in India. “Thousands of examples can be cited to prove that the ruling class of India, which manages to get elected through the ballot boxes, is not real democrats who believe in liberty, equality and freedom of the people. The ruling elite have grossly misused the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat and organisations like the Central Bureau of Investigation,” wrote Dhar.

How does the politics of intelligence define India-Pakistan relations? For one, malicious officers can do considerable harm to bilateral ties as well as to social cohesion at home. Take the case of the bombing of the Samjhauta Express in February 2007. It killed 68 passengers near Panipat, mostly Pakistanis. The media, obviously briefed by the ubiquitous sleuths, immediately blamed the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-i-Mohammed. Pakistani national Azmat Ali was arrested.

Now, after doing untold harm to both countries, Indian police have seen the evidence trail lead to right-wing Hindu activists. Investigators claim the triggering mechanism for the Mecca masjid blast three months later was similar to the one used here. According to Outlook magazine, police are looking for Sandeep Dange and Ramji of the secretive Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh.

The magazine in it latest issue has listed at least eight major bombings in different parts of the country in which Muslim groups including some with links to Pakistan were hunted or arrested. The incidents are suspected now of being the handiwork of right-wing Hindu activists.

India-Pakistan relations are not of course about how each side handles their religious fanatics, though it should be one of the serious concerns. What is at stake is the mindset of those that create the atmosphere for peace or whip up belligerence. Their diplomatic relations are not confined any more to the raging dispute over Kashmir. Much of the agenda, whether it is discussed in Islamabad or not, is about how they would deal with each other in Afghanistan, in the so-called pursuit of their national interests, another dangerous catchphrase.

The prevailing situation in Afghanistan is bad enough even with a wide assortment of countries sharing a degree of sensitive intelligence in their tussle with the Taliban. We can’t even begin to imagine the nightmare in store for the hapless country should India and Pakistan get into a reckless stand-off there. That’s why it is important for the intelligence communities on both sides to evict the old mindsets, including the rogue officers, and put together a plan that allows each side to rebuild their fractured nations. The alternative is too fraught with risks. To continue to be cavalier about it would be foolish.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.