There has been widespread national attention at the manner in which a small group called for the breakup and even the Wahhabisation of India on 9 February at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. They did this repeatedly, without obvious objection from the much larger number of attendees during the event. However, the impact of such cries on public opinion, reminiscent as they were of the frenzied and ultimately successful cries for the partition of India in the 1930s, was lost afterwards by hooliganism indulged in by hyper-patriots. However, the 9 February JNU event, soon followed by a similar do at Jadavpur University in Kolkata is worrying senior officials battling radicalism and terrorism worldwide, who fear that such calls on campuses for the vivisection of India may spread.
The source of their worry is contained in information detailed by a group of sources within Pakistan, who reveal that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) unit of the Pakistan military has, since November 2014, begun to implement a plan designed to activate a “non-terror” front in India, in addition to the long-running terror front. This second front is expected by GHQ Rawalpindi to have a destructive effect on public morale and the ability of the governance system to take decisive action against the terror front and its affiliates—the hawala and narcotics industry, which has been growing unhindered in India since the United Front government took over from the Congress Party in 1996 and oversaw the introduction of policy measures designed to boost domestic opium production, as well as encourage the manufacture of chemicals designed to process narcotics, especially in states bordering Pakistan.
Once the economic liberalisation carried out by P.V. Narasimha Rao in the1990s gave promise of faster growth in India, among GHQ Rawalpindi’s core objectives in this country has been a meltdown of economic and societal vitality. This economy-focused strategy got accelerated in early 2003, when it became obvious that Pakistan-directed terror attacks by themselves were not sufficient to bring India to a state of insecurity and lack of confidence sufficient to prevent an adequate response to the ISI’s covert terror mission in India. Hence, followed repeated attacks on major metropolitan centres, as well as efforts to assassinate scientists, who are a key element in the wide “Knowledge Gap” between India and Pakistan. GHQ Rawalpindi has been particularly disconcerted by the increasing warmth between Washington and Delhi, especially the two militaries. GHQ Rawalpindi watched with dismay as Manmohan Singh began to change the parameters of engagement with Washington after the 2005 nuclear understanding with President George W. Bush.
There has been a sharp acceleration of the ISI policy of “death to India by a thousand revolts” since Narendra Modi became the prospective Prime Minister by mid-2013. Once he took charge as PM in May 2014, the new PM gave promise of ushering in a period of 21st-century reform of the governance structure, which would hopefully raise to double digits the “natural” rate of growth of the country from the historical level of 2%. This may otherwise be termed the Nehru Rate of Growth in honour of the Prime Minister whose policies made such a situation inevitable. Soon afterwards, the concept of a non-terror “second front” against India was developed within GHQ and communicated to the ISI for implementation through its proxies and dupes in India.
Sources within Pakistan reveal that the budget for the “second front” was “expanded five times” during 2013-15 by General Raheel Sharif. The aim was to “deepen the demonisation of Narendra Modi abroad and in the big cities of India”, both locations crucial to increasing India’s rate of growth to double digits. According to those who have worked with General Sharif, the all-powerful and hugely popular Chief of Army Staff (COAS) in Pakistan is “determined to ensure that the global India story gets derailed in the era of Modi”. Keeping alive international perceptions that India and Pakistan were a trigger away from nuclear war is seen by GHQ as important in discouraging investment within India and into India. Hence, there has been a particular focus on actions designed to derail India-Pakistan dialogue and instead promote tension through terror attacks by ISI proxies. “To befool (sic) Obama, General Sharif regularly speaks of peace and good relations with India. However, his true intent gets communicated to his staff, who are told to work on plans for strengthening the covert First (terror) and Second (popular unrest and revolt) fronts.”
In a bid to derail dialogue, in Arnia, in 2014, on the anniversary of 26/11 (the Mumbai terror attacks), a terror attack took place at an Army camp. Not coincidentally, both the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan were in Kathmandu at the time, looking towards overcoming the stoppage of Foreign Secretary-level talks announced by India in August 2014.
Rawalpindi GHQ, according to well-informed sources, is “very concerned at the rise in public support within Pakistan for peace with India, even if this means freezing the Kashmir dispute by both sides”. Public support within the tortured country for the hugely expensive (relative to Gross National Product) Pakistan military hinges on an inflating of the “India threat”, an objective helped by periodic breakdowns of communication and rise in border tensions between Delhi and Islamabad. In an effort at derailing dialogue, three more attacks occurred in succession by terrorists trained in Peshawar and Muzaffarabad. These took place on Army camps in India, on 5 December 2014 near Uri, on 20 March 2015 at Samba (which hit police installations as well) and 27 May 2015 in Tangdhar, just a day after the first anniversary of the Modi government.
However, neither Prime Minister Modi nor National Security Advisor Ajit Doval (who is reputed to be as close to the PM as BJP president Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley) fell into the GHQ trap by cutting off avenues for dialogue with the civilian establishment in Pakistan led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, “who knows that peace with India is essential for the growth and stability of Pakistan, but who has got no support from the international community for ensuring civil dominance over the military in Pakistan”, a source based in Karachi said.
Defying predictions that dialogue at such a level was stalled if not totally derailed by the terror attacks, both Nawaz Sharif and Modi met at Ufa in Russia on 10 July 2015 to the chagrin of the ISI, which was “pulled up” by GHQ for not doing enough to foul the atmosphere within both India and Pakistan for talks with each other. In order to goad India into precipitate action, such as would make Delhi look the aggressor rather than Rawalpindi, another ISI-linked terror attack got carried out on 27 July 2015 at Dina Nagar and another on 6 August on a BSF convoy in Udhampur. That same year, on the anniversary of 26/11, three terrorists fired on a Gorkha Rifles camp in Kupwara district, although their attempt to set on fire the oil depot was foiled by prompt action by the Gorkhas.
Sources say that Prime Minister Modi has been getting detailed real time information from multiple sources about the goings-on in GHQ Rawalpindi and the intentions of General Sharif and his top advisors. Hence, despite pressure from those eager for a cutting off of contact between this country and Pakistan, the PM refused to be provoked. “Modi Sahab (sic) knows that decisive action against Pakistan needs coordinated action by India and the US”, hopefully with China adopting a neutral stance in its own interest. This can be assured “only after it becomes obvious that India has gone the extra mile to preserve peace, but has repeatedly been rebuffed by the Pakistan military through its proxies”. Hence the focus on diplomacy. To the dismay of the ISI, PM Modi met his counterpart Nawaz Sharif at Paris during the climate summit. This brief but intense interaction resulted in the NSAs of the two countries meeting at Bangkok on 6 December 2015 and working the modalities for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to visit Pakistan on 8 December, ostensibly to attend the “Heart of Asia” security dialogue. This was followed by the unprecedented visit by Modi to Lahore on 25 December, Christmas Day, where the personal chemistry and bonhomie between him and Sharif was on display to the world. GHQ was not slow to react, igniting the Pathankot attack on 2 January 2016, which, fortunately, did not result in the mass casualties which had been planned for the operation by specially-selected “shock elements” of the terror groups nurtured by the ISI. However, even this attack did not result in the collapse of Prime Minister Modi’s innovative diplomacy towards the civilian leadership of Pakistan, nor goad him into copying the verbal aggression, which is a staple of television talk shows on both sides of the border.
Sources close to GHQ say that the failure to derail the India-Pakistan peace process resulted in an “intensification of the strategy of promoting unrest in India through agitations and violence directed against the security arms of the state”. The banking, railways and road transport industries are a particular focus of this campaign, and sources cognisant of the field situation say that the ISI is working to ensure that “soon after the Union Budget (for 2016-17) gets passed, strikes, go-slows and uncontrollable unrest will break out” in India, thereby damaging economic prospects.
Since 2005, these sources claim that the ISI has been able to recruit across India over 16,000 (sixteen thousand) “volunteers and auxiliaries” (with the latter being unaware of the actual affiliation of the group they belong to). They add that “more than 80% of the new recruits are sleepers”, those who as yet have not participated in any covert activity and hence are under the police radar. Interestingly, according to these sources, such recruits belong “not only to Muslim organisations. Many are from the Sikh, Hindu and other communities, and are distributed across various professions and strata of society.” “Both the hawala networks, especially in the border states, and the narcotics industry work closely with the ISI to provide logistical support and protection for this expanding ‘non-terrorist’ network of the ISI.” A particular infowar focus “is to discredit those who point to the danger of GHQ intervention in the economics, sociology and politics of India as alarmist and paranoidal”, a ploy which seems to be working, judging by the number of those in the commentariat who refuse to accept that the country is facing a mortal threat from the Pakistan military, not just through non-conventional war but through other means.
The ISI has been getting help from individuals in foreign countries to paint a dismal picture of India, “many of whom are well-meaning and who do not realise that they are being manipulated in the name of women’s rights, child rights and minority freedoms by a Wahhabi organisation, whose core objective is the meltdown of the Indian state, thereby creating a vacuum which can be filled with radicals and result in chaos in a manner similar to what has happened in other countries where there has been a collapse of the governance mechanism”. Interestingly, they point out that several such meltdowns in governance and social cohesion in countries targeted by rival powers have been initiated by protest movements across college campuses that soon engulfed the streets.
The 9 February 2016 rally in JNU appears to have been infiltrated by elements of the “non-terror” front of the ISI. However, it would be incorrect to state that the students’ union in the university knew of such a move, “as these take place covertly and under false flags”. Security experts fault the Delhi police for “using an AK 47 rather than a sniper rifle”, or in other words, widening the net of arrests and police action too broadly rather than zeroing in on the handful who have links with the ISI and its affiliates or dupes.
Why were pro-separatist slogans relating to the terror campaign in Kashmir raised in the JNU and Jadavpur rallies? Why are such slogans getting repeated across several parts of India? According to sources within Pakistan, “the ISI is alarmed at the diminishing confidence even within Wahhabi segments in Kashmir of the prospect of separation from the Union of India”. “The ISI wishes to boost the confidence of pro-Pakistan elements in Kashmir (whom they wish to recruit in terror gangs that would be active across India). They try and do this by demonstrating that significant sections of the population in other parts of India support their struggle, and hence they ought not to give up.” Either by design or by coincidence, well-organised albeit theatrical shouts of “azaadi” by a few indoctrinated individuals were heard during the 9 February rally at JNU, which was attended without obvious protest at such slogans by some office-bearers of the JNU Students’ Union.
Contrary to selected media reports, it is extremely unlikely that any of the office-bearers of the students’ union at JNU are in sync with the slogans raised by pro-Pakistan elements on 9 February. Hence, security experts spoken to say that the arrest of JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar was a “gross error”. They say the move “had the effect of uniting the students”, as well as shifting the spotlight from the 1930s Partition of India-style slogans raised by a handful of motivated protestors at the rally to the clumsy tactics of the Delhi police. Although the authorities were justified in their alarm at what took place in the rally held in JNU (and in Jadavpur), the steamroller action taken by the Delhi police may have the effect of driving such groups underground, where they will be more difficult to uncover and eliminate. In the JNU situation, it may have been preferable for the police to “wait and watch” till more Pakistan-oriented elements emerged into the sunlight—investigating them quietly and later on, arresting them singly in subsequent days—rather than acting “prematurely and indiscriminately”, thereby netting not the required core elements, but relative innocents who were simply caught up in the excitement of the rally. It will take painstaking investigation into the call and visit records of the ringleaders of the 9 February rally at JNU before the unseen handlers of the youths responsible for seditious sloganeering and partition-oriented indoctrination get identified.
GHQ Rawalpindi has opened a second front in India that is in some respects even deadlier than the terror operations conducted by the organisation. These are the “non-terror” groups recruited and motivated by them to stage uprisings designed to damage the potency of the governance mechanism in India, and with that, any expectation of the high growth promised by Narendra Modi while on the campaign trail in 2013-14. A strategy designed to deal with the “Terror Wing” (ISI-TW) of the ISI may not be effective against the “Non-Terror Wing” (ISI-NTW). Unless better methods get worked out and put into operation, what is taking place may be the start of a protracted “non-terror” campaign waged on different platforms by the ISI across India through its agents, dupes and dummies, even as GHQ ensures an acceleration in terror strikes, as well as unrest in key economic sectors within the country to derail both economic prospects and an India-Pakistan detente.
Battling such a twin strategy, implemented through a network that now has considerable depth and sophistication within India, requires scrutiny also of seeming hyper-patriots, such as those who indulged in hooliganism against the media. Are any of such individuals financially or socially linked to narcotics and hawala networks in Rajasthan and Punjab? It needs to be remembered that GHQ, through the ISI, seeds sleepers in both the ruling as well as opposition parties, fortified by the financial, political, official and logistics backing of the multi-billion dollar hawala and narcotics lobby in India. Those hooligan elements seen across television screens in India and abroad beating up JNU students, no matter what their affiliation, significantly assisted the ISI in its campaign against India, exactly as those few calling for a second partition of India did on campus.