The David Headley saga should make Indians realize the ruthless ways of superpowers and their geopolitical games. It has in fact exposed the real “anti-terror” face of the US, Pakistan, and unfortunately a collusive and powerful segment of the Indian establishment which has been manipulating and facilitating terror to serve vote bank interests.It is the same establishment which profusely and profanely uses the terms “jingoism” and “war mongers” against anyone who suggests putting Hafeez Sayeed to the same end as Osama bin Laden. This establishment sent its officers to the US who at best, and depending on Headley’s mood, were allowed to have friendly chit-chat with him, but bandied it as “interrogation.”
Die Al-Qaeda, Long Live LeT!
Even a rudimentary understanding of the functioning of the intelligence agencies the world over will make it self-evident that David Headley was not a double agent, but exclusively an “Intelligence Asset” of the CIA.
The 35 years prison term pronounced on him is not the first judicial sentence. In 1997, he was arrested for heroin smuggling by the Drug Enforcement Agency in the US, but was released at least three years prior so that he could travel to Pakistan in November 2001.
This interestingly coincided with Operation Enduring Freedom unleashed by the US and its allies in Afghanistan in October 2001. Since then Headley travelled frequently and at will between the US and Pakistan and later India. All intelligence assets when deployed keep updating their controlling agency regarding their whereabouts regularly. So the dozen times Headley visited India on reconnaissance missions was definitely not concealed from his handlers.
If Headley was deployed for intelligence support for Op Enduring Freedom, his prime concern would have logically been the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda. Which begs the question: why was he subsequently asked by his handlers in US to train with the LeT which all along, was vocal about its jihad against India. The US establishment was more than aware that the LeT is a proxy arm of the ISI. Headley’s links with some ISI officers were on a long term friendship basis courtesy his schooling at Cadet College in Hasan Abdal.
Therefore, Headley had a patron-client relationship with the LeT. The LeT leadership was beholden to him because of his proximity to the ISI. Given the LeT network in India and specially Mumbai, there was no need for Headley to carry out reconnaissance of the targets. Nevertheless, his half-American background would have been indispensable for penetrating and cultivating collaborators in the Indian establishment. In 2005 and 2007, Headley’s wives had complained about his terrorist links to LeT. This is on record. The US authorities were unmoved. So why this separate treatment for the Al-Qaeda and LeT, if it indeed is a “global war against terrorism?” What is the difference between Osama bin Laden and Hafeez Sayeed?
War Against Terror Not Global
Referring to the US campaign to catch Osama bin Laden, the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in an interview to a newspaper had said that it was for the US to decide whether it wanted to confine its global war against terror in general or to one individual.
The Obama administration has confirmed his misgivings
In the last decade, India’s seriousness on the war against terrorism has fluctuated with the imperatives and diktats of the USA. When Operation Enduring Freedom was initiated by the US and its allies, there was a palpable anticipation amongst Indians that India’s moment of redemption from decades-long unremitting jihadi terrorism had arrived. Bombastic utterances from US officials like: “either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” (George W Bush in US Congress) and “we will bomb you to the Stone Age” (Richard Armitage), only fueled the hopes of Indians.There was unmistakable alacrity in the Indian establishment to forge a strategic partnership with the US in the so-called war against terrorism. Indians who intrinsically place heavy premium on natural justice were convinced that Pakistan was going to dissolve because of the accumulated sins of the successive establishments and the jihadis.
They were convinced that Islamic fundamentalism and jihadi terrorism was going to be rolled back from its epicenter—the Af-Pak region. They were also convinced that this time around, unlike after Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Americans would not leave the theatre without drastic and enduring geopolitical restructuring of the region.
This implicit faith prompted many Indian security experts and some policy makers to advocate deployment of two divisions in Afghanistan. These security experts ensured that they sold this idea at every conceivable seminar or gathering, which mattered. Editorials were churned out in favour of the idea. News channels held regular debates to contrive support for the proposal.
At one level, the proposal did not appear to be foolhardy because of the stakes involved for India in the long term perspective. Indian investment in Afghanistan of more than US $1 billion was not resented by any quarters in India because of the sheer robustness of the strategic logic of purging Taliban from Afghanistan and depriving Pakistan of any strategic depth.
India was said to have moved far away from the hyphenated Indo-Pak paradigm in international reckoning.A decade down the line hope gave way to despair. Although things have changed slightly since last year, the narrative until then was clear. Far from moving away, the hyphenated Indo-Pak paradigm, had hit a new low.
Indians being inured to believe that they are condemned to suffer terrorist bombings; 13/12, 26/11 are just dots on the vast political landscape of India and the country has enough manpower to sacrifice; beheading of two soldiers on the LoC is routine; abduction and killing of sarpanches in Kashmir is normal feature of ongoing insurgency; ISI forging links with Maoists is logical; Hafiz Saeed did plan 26/11 in concert with the ISI, but he is only an antithesis to the RSS; and targeting terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden or Hafiz Saeed is the exclusive preserve of the Americans who alone are expected to be sensitive and nationalist.
The New Geo-political Structure
Just as an entire structure was put in place in India to promote US intervention in Afghanistan, a similar or may be more elaborate structure comprising politicians, so called intellectuals, diplomats, strategic experts and journalists has been created to ensure new geopolitical reconfiguration of the region to ensure its smooth and honorable exit.
The overwhelming refrain at the time of intervention was that 9/11 happened because the Americans did not dismantle the jihadi structure they had created in Af-Pak region to contest the grand finale of the Cold War before abandoning the region to its own destiny and devices, and as a consequence, the jihadi structure suffering from a misplaced sense of invincibility after humbling the Soviet Union, a superpower, took on its mentors: the USA.
There was genuine and acute anxiety in India about the consequences if the Americans were to abandon the region again without dismantling the jihadi structure in the Af-Pak region. This apprehension stands seemingly vindicated. The US war machine looking for an honourable exit, and the jihadis raising the pitch of having chased out another superpower is quite discernible.
The last time, when Soviet forces withdrew, the jihadi machine was redirected to India, and thanks to the attrition caused by the Indian Army over a decade, only one 9/11 took place.
India needs to be prepared for more vicious terrorism in times to come
The indications are already there. As per reports, the LeT is relocating some of its camps in Eastern Afghanistan, i.e. Kunar and Nuristan, not very far from Kashmir. Hafiz Saeed has meanwhile reiterated his terror message, i.e. “arms struggle is the only solution to Kashmir struggle”. The beheading of the Indian soldiers on the LoC has clearly unmasked the vast structure that has been assiduously created in India by the American establishment to promote the new geopolitical script of the region. In this script, the perpetrator and the victim of terrorism have been put on the same pedestal.
For America, it is of no concern that Hafiz Saeed and the ISI planned and executed 26/11. The US has already granted legal immunity to two former ISI chiefs for their role in 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. Allegedly, this deal was reached at a clandestine meeting between Admiral Mike Mullen and General Ashfaq Kayani held in Oman on 22 February 2011. Hafiz Saeed, on whom the American establishment had announced a reward of $10 million, roams free in Pakistan.
The then Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram had then hailed the US decision. A few months later, Kashmiri separatist leaders in India were allowed to travel to Pakistan on Indian passports and meet Hafiz Saeed. Another Home Minister referred to this terrorist leader as “Shri Hafiz Saeed” in the parliament, and more recently, another senior politician famous for his “Osama ji” remark, alluded to him as “Hafiz Sahab”. The word “Sahab” was not used in jest, but reflected the authority and influence that Hafiz Saeed has begun to exercise over the Indian establishment for intriguing reasons.
The new structure assembled in India during the last decade by the US could, in the wake of last year’s LoC incident, be seen to be unabashedly pro-US and pro-Pak. Any one advocating caution with regard to Pakistan’s ulterior strategic motives was labeled as “jingoistic”, a term that has crept into the Indian security establishment as well and will cost India dearly.
A diplomat-turned-politician, known for his acerbic speech and fealty to a particular political dynasty has been abusive towards members of the diplomatic and strategic community who favour holding the Pakistani establishment accountable for the dastardly act on the LoC and other acts of terror, and suspending sporting and cultural links as they cannot be allowed to facilitate murder and terror.
Even before the shock and anger following the LoC incident had attenuated, one media house persisted with an Indo-Pak friendship show wherein some Indian journalists chose the occasion to indulge in India bashing. One of them went to the extent of equating Hafiz Saeed with the RSS! This was even as Hafiz Saeed was being accused for his role in the beheadings. So the pro-Hafiz constituency is not only confined to the separatists and certain segments of the political class in India. Then there was a journalist who began to drum the notion that Indian troops also resort to beheadings citing verbal testimony of two journalists from their experiences in Kargil War. However, one of them is known to have enjoyed the hospitality of the ISI-linked Fai Foundation in the US and the other has been in news for indulging in political-fixing.
Also in this very period, Musharraf was in India and declared unabashedly, for the first time on the Indian soil that he indeed was the architect of Kargil War as a revenge for 1971. This was something always known but never before officially acknowledged. The number of Pakistani participants in the debates following the LoC incident is baffling, given the logistics and coordination involved.
On another channel, a former Pakistani Admiral derided India by calling it an inherently weak state, and on another channel, a retired Brigadier ridiculed the Indian panelists’ suggestion that India refrained from exploiting Pakistan’s preoccupation with its western front. He retorted that India did not dare to do so because of the strategic diktats of the US. Both these statements can be construed as sarcastically provocative. Nevertheless, even coming from the adversary, there may be more than passing truth, and therefore cry for introspection.
There have always been Indian journalists under the patronage of the ISI, but they were fewer in the past. A journalist friend of this author who was part of Vajpayee’s entourage to Lahore had one evening accompanied another Pakistani journalist to the club. As they got up to leave a well-known Indian journalist walked in. Alluding to him, the Pakistani journalist said that he was bewildered that the Indian authorities do not bother to ascertain as to on whose cost the said journalist makes monthly visits to Pakistan and enjoys five-star hospitality. With the proliferation of news channels, the segment of subverted media has only increased in size, notwithstanding the rise in their nationalistic pitch when things become impossible.
The new structure that has evolved over the years to serve the strategic interests of extra-regional powers and political interests of some outfits in India has subverted the Indian state as such. Collaboration of elements in the Indian establishment with terrorist groups and the ISI in Pakistan is therefore not a wild insinuation.
If Ajmal Kasab had not been caught by sheer act of providence, 26/11 would have been certainly portrayed as an act of “Hindu Terrorism”. If one were to treat 26/11 as the Centre, and plot the rest of the fabricated stories of Hindu terror revealed through inspired leaks to one and only newspaper, the entire fraud can be unraveled. Probably Hafiz Saeed and the ISI know too much, which is why the fear and respectability amongst the collaborators in the Indian establishment.
Such was the sensitivity and anger noticed in the pro-Pak and pro-US lobby in India that anybody talking of punitive action following the beheading of soldiers on the LoC, and the killing of sarpanches in the Valley was greeted with umbrage and epithet of “warmonger.” They deliberately ignored the fact that there were several diplomatic measures short of war. These include extradition of Hafiz Saeed for his involvement in 26/11, extradition of David Hadley from the US and action against Hurriyat leaders for meeting Hafiz Saeed during their tour to Pakistan on Indian passport. Even these suggestions were considered to be blasphemous. In this entire episode, the viciousness and the naked courage of anti-India spin-doctors in the Indian establishment is the most disturbing feature.
Revising Threat Perception
The Indian Army Chief and the GOC-in-C of Northern Command were rightly incensed over the beheading. Nevertheless it would have served the security of the country better, if the Army Chief had taken a more holistic view of the country’s security rather than just the incident at the LoC. This incident was not isolated but was concomitant with the killing of sarpanches and the ambush in Chhattisgarh by the Maoists, wherein weapons of Pakistani origin were found. There has been inconvertible proof of growing ISI-Maoist-ULFA links and the formation of Strategic United Front. The Indian Army cannot fail to appreciate the new phase of proxy war from Pakistan.
Taking into account the threats from China and Pakistan, and more importantly, the proxy wars in the form of jihadi terrorism and Maoist terrorism emanating from them; the developments in Afghanistan; the extent of the Red Corridor; the jihadi terrorism emanating from Bangladesh; the impact of instability in Nepal; the insurgency in Assam and Northeast; the growing ISI footprint in the very heart of India… the Indian Army needs to readdress its threat perception.
The ISI is a part of the military establishment of Pakistan and jihadi terrorism is its inalienable strategic tool—therefore the Indian Army can continue to compartmentalize internal and external security at the peril of India. The form of warfare has changed and so has the concept of defeat and victory. Defeat has so far been our destiny in this new form of warfare because we do not even know what constitutes victory!
The distinction or line between internal security and external security has obliterated. The degree of harmony between internal security and external security determines the overall security of a country. It is this disharmony that cost us 230 districts in the Maoist corridor and the displacement of more than four lakh Kashmiri Pandits from their motherland. The latter poses a glaring question on the very secular model of Indian state that we have inherited. It is a sad reflection on the ability of the state and its instruments to provide to its people the very basis of the Indian nation-state.
The Indian security forces cannot afford to get carried away by the new political and diplomatic discourse in Indo-Pak relations. If at all, the recent LoC incident has exposed the irreconcilable disconnect between political reach-out, diplomatic reach-out and security imperatives vis-à-vis Pakistan.
In fact, a very sizeable segment of the political and diplomatic community, as also the media, is seen to be desperate in localizing the LoC incident. Their entire thrust is to dissociate Kashmir from the overall Indo-Pakistan interface, so that the country could be told that it is our manifest destiny to suffer terrorism in Kashmir. The script made it quite evident when the scare of a nuclear war was propagated by a Kashmir-based newspaper. The entire exercise is to portray Kashmir as a nuclear flash point to the international community and therefore the beheadings should be seen in that larger backdrop.
The subverted “peace lobby” has deliberately and on purpose entered into a criminal conspiracy to deny that terror had moved full circle from Kashmir to Mumbai. This circle remains intact. It would have done wonders to the morale of Indian troops if the Prime Minister had visited the families of the beheaded soldiers, just as he did in the case of a diplomat, who lost his life in Afghanistan, since both were victims of the same jihadi terrorism.
It is incumbent on the Indian Army to argue cogently with the decision-makers regarding the circle of terror operating in India. It must prevail on the decision makers that since the terrorist camps in PoK and elsewhere continue to thrive, and there is not an iota of change in the terrorist discourse in the Pakistan’s military-intelligence establishment, no amount of investment in peace would deliver dividends. It may help the Americans to script the new geopolitical discourse in the region and a new Pakistani dispensation that will ensure smooth exit from Afghanistan, but it will certainly be at the cost of India. In fact, we may just be in a worse situation than before 9/11 as victims of jihadi terrorism.
The new strategic reality obtaining in the region was best summed in the US Senate by John Kerry, a passionate Pakistan supporter, when he challenged senator Rand Paul’s proposed bill to make the US aid to Pakistan incumbent on the release of Dr Shakil Afridi, who had helped in locating Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil.
John Kerry, who’s now the US Secretary of State, argued that the victory in the war against Al-Qaeda would not have been possible without Pakistan and Pakistanis are sacrificing lives in the Northwestern tribal regions. It was this support from Kerry that resulted in the provision of the $688 million to Pakistan for its infrastructural support to the US-led coalition in Afghanistan. It may be noted that Americans in reaching out to Pakistan displayed no concerns about jihadi groups targeting India.
John Kerry never fails to underscore the strategic importance of Pakistan. It may be mentioned that whenever Pakistan has been on the verge of collapse, it has been salvaged by a concourse of a strategic circumstances. In the 50s and 60s, its key strategic location was critical for CENTO and SEATO, in the 70s when it was on the verge of collapse, its territory became indispensable to fight the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan and in the beginning of 21st century, its demise was prevented by the US-led war against terrorism.
This is the reality. India has to learn to fend with its own initiative, if necessary with foreign weapons, but without foreign threat perception.
(The author is a former RAW officer and security analyst. This was first published in Uday India)