It should come as no surprise that India is feeling vindicated: The United States has finally come around to endorsing India’s view of the nefarious regional role of Pakistan’s intelligence service. Reports in recent days that the CIA has confronted Pakistan with evidence that its spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence , had a hand in last month’s suicide terrorist attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul echo India’s long-held conviction that Pakistan is backing terrorism in the region.
Five days after the July 7 bombing that killed nearly 60 people, Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan had claimed India had a “fair amount” of intelligence to prove Pakistan’s complicity. There may have been nothing new in New Delhi accusing Islamabad of using jihadist terrorist groups as proxies to strike at India. But Indian intelligence and security experts are unaccustomed to seeing that charge being echoed by Washington, which has embraced Pakistan as a crucial ally in its “war on terrorism” despite concerns over the long-standing relations between the ISI and the Taliban and other extremist groups. Still, the Indian intelligence circuit is only raising two cheers to the news of Pakistan, which Friday vehemently denied the accusations of its involvement, getting a rap on the knuckles. Reactions among analysts range from a weary “I told you so” to a cynical “So what”
Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, controlled by the army rather than the civilian government, has for years been accused of covertly intervening in the affairs of its neighbors. The government of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has accused the ISI of aiding the Taliban and has blamed it for the recent wave of bloody unrest in the country, including a July 13 attack on a military outpost in which nine U.S. soldiers were killed. In June, Afghan officials had accused the ISI of plotting a failed assassination attempt on Karzai.
India’s list of grievances runs longer it has accused the ISI of inciting trouble on its territory ever since its alleged involvement in the bloody Punjab insurgency in the late 1980s. In the years since, Indian intelligence and security agencies have accused the ISI of arming, funding, training and providing a safe haven in Pakistan to a variety of militant groups fighting the Indian government: Kashmir terrorist groups such as the Hizbul-Mujahideen and Jaish-e-Mohammed; the insurgents in India’s northeast such as the United Liberation Front of Assam; and Islamist organizations such as the Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba, which have been accused of plotting a series of bombings across India over the past five years. Unofficial reports have alleged links between the ISI and the 1993 Mumbai bombings that killed more than 250 people, and Indian officials have claimed to have evidence that the mastermind of those attacks, Dawood Ibrahim, is living in luxury in Pakistan. Officials have also hinted at suspicions that the recent bombings in Bangalore and Ahmadabad were aided by the ISI.
Still, the U.S. has continued to ply Pakistan with weapons and funds despite protests from India, which President Bush has hailed as a “strategic partner.” Many Indian experts believe the CIA has known of the ISI’s complicity all along and has decided to act now only because its own interests in Afghanistan are at stake. “So what’s new” asks G. Parthasarathy, a former diplomat and foreign-affairs analyst. “The Americans have all along known about the ISI’s collaboration with the Taliban. They knew the political leadership of the Taliban, including Mullah Omar, were in Quetta; they knew when [Jalaluddin] Haqqani was in Pakistan. Earlier it didn’t suit their interest to admit this, but now that the fellows trained to fight in Kashmir are fighting in Afghanistan and killing American soldiers, they’re feeling the heat.” Vikram Sood, former chief of India’s external intelligence service, the Research and Analysis Wing, agrees: “We’ve been shouting this from the rooftops for years. Now, given the situation in Afghanistan, there is growing frustration within the U.S. about Pakistan’s two-timing. But there’s no telling whether this is a one-off scolding or will translate into longer-term action. Hopefully, there will be more trouble for the ISI ahead.”
While the CIA confronting the ISI is seen as good news in New Delhi, particularly if it leads to greater U.S. pressure on Pakistan to rein in its intelligence arm, India may not gain much from the new development. Sood points out that the CIA’s intervention concerns the U.S. and Pakistan, not India and Pakistan. Indo-Pak relations, tricky at best, have been strained by the Kabul attacks, recent bombings in two major Indian cities and skirmishes just this week along the border in Kashmir. Starting July 28, soldiers on both sides of the border exchanged gunfire for 16 hours in what was termed the most serious violation of the fragile cease-fire in place since 2003. Following routine security talks on July 21, Indian foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said the peace process between the two countries was “under stress.”
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is due to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, on Saturday on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Sri Lanka the highest-level talks between the two countries in 15 months. And the role of the ISI is sure to be discussed. But some believe India is unlikely to take a sterner stance with Pakistan, as it lacks the political will and consensus to come down heavily on foreign-sponsored terrorism. “India’s problem is internal,” says security analyst Brahma Chellaney. “India’s problem is its weak leadership and lack of a coherent counterterror strategy. It is not an accident that according to the U.S., after Iraq, India is the biggest victim of terrorism in the world.”