ISI- The Demon we feed- 2000
August 1, 2000
ISI- The Demon we feed- 2000
Causes and Consequences of the ISI's increasing influence in India.
ISI -The demon we feed

Illustration: Amili Setalvad

The picture, as those incharge of keeping a watch on our borders see it, is  truly grim. The intention of our neighbours, in their assessment, has never been nastier. “The ISI is a frightening reality today,” says Vibhuti Narain Singh, IG, intelligence, Border Security Force.

The merciless manner in which Pakistan–backed insurgents recently butchered close to a hundred innocent Hindus in J & K — simply to throttle what looked like the first hopeful steps towards a solution of the Kashmir problem by the Hizbul Mujahideen — is an indicator of what the bloody—minded in our neighbourhood think of peace.  

But keeping Kashmir on the boil until the “unfinished business of Partition” is completed and the “humiliation of Bangladesh” avenged is only one part of the “strategy of internal encirclement” and the “doctrine of a ‘thousand cuts’ dividing India like the Balkans” that the ISI/Pakistan is assiduously working on. That is the assessment of intelligence reports, copies of which have been made available to Communalism Combat.

The elements of the ISI’s nefarious and multi–pronged game–plan are:

Madrassas for jehad
The way madrassas — traditional educational institutions, similar to pathshalas — have been redefined in Pakistan in recent years to act as breeding ground for producing mujihids willing to kill and die in the name of Islam is by now well-known. The ISI, according to the intelligence reports, now has a similar plan in mind for India.

Since 1992, madrassas and mosques have mushroomed in large numbers all along India’s borders – from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west, to UP in the North, Bihar and West Bengal in the East and Assam in the Northeast. Funded with money suspected to have come from Saudi Arabia and even the ISI directly, these madrassas and mosques have been built and are being run by Muslim organisations with a worldview that is “pan–Islamic”, not “Indo–Islamic”.

Muslim organisations influenced by the highly orthodox Wahabi philosophy — the Tablighi Jamaat, the Jamaat–e–Islami, the Jamaat–e–Ulema, Ahle Hadees — have all been named in the intelligence reports as being in the forefront of this resurgence.

In the assessment of intelligence personnel, at best, these madrassas will breed a whole generation of Muslim youth armed, with a fundamentalist mindset but ill—equipped with this–worldly education or any skill to help them find a job. In the worst case scenario, such youth with no means of livelihood will tomorrow prove to being fertile recruiting ground for the ISI.

The perceived security threats:
  • “Organise(d) minority community through a chain of madrassas”.
  • “The muftis/moulvis/imams may be replaced by highly fanatic agents of ISI in near future”.
  • “In future these affected madrassas may provide shelter to hard core militants as was the case in Golden Temple, Amritsar, during the militancy in Punjab”.
  • “Madrassas may be used to spread propaganda and subvert the minds of masses”.
  • “Considering the change in the demographical pattern of West Bengal and some NE states (see below), a day might come when some fundamentalists may make a demand for a separate country, e.g., Punjab and J & K”.
  • “Intelligence agencies already claim that there are many pupils from Kashmir having links with pro–Pakistan outfits”.
  • “These madrassas and mosques may soon become an efficient launching pad for ISI agents/operations”.
  • “Youth could be subverted so much that a day might come when they think of religion first and country later”.
Fishing in troubled waters  
“ISI has been fishing in troubled waters of Northeast in the recent past by exploiting these dissatisfied and already well–armed insurgent groups. The motive behind ISI’s involvement in Northeast needs a comprehensive study and analysis. Is it the more obvious motive of fomenting disruptive activities in already troubled Northeast region or the greater agenda of converting the Northeast region into an Islamic pocket making Assam their stronghold?”

Enrolling India’s Muslims
“ISI is trying to establish its bases in Hyderabad, western Uttar Pradesh, north Kerala, Himachal Pradesh, parts of Tamil Nadu, besides Mumbai suburbs”. The arrest of many members of the Deendar Anjuman for their alleged involvement in the recent bomb blasts in AP, Karnataka and Goa with the intent of spreading ‘nifaque’ (hostility) between Christians and Hindus, appears to be a new link in this ominous chain.
Bases in Bangladesh, Nepal; more Muslims in the border districts:

The ISI is making full use of the highly porous and unmanned borders between India and Bangladesh, and India and Nepal, to train militants and to push men, arms and ammunition and counterfeit currency into India.

Having launched its ‘Ops Santan’ in August 1996 to gain a foothold in Nepal, the ISI is claimed to have already accomplished its short–term objective: “to include approximately 18,000 trained men into the area who have already begun operation from Nepal. These include Bangladesh refugees, Pak and Afghan nationals”.

Intelligence reports add that Pakistan is also well on its way to meeting its long–term objective in the area: bringing about demographic changes in the region. “In 1970, Nepal was known as the only country with 100 per cent Hindu population. In 1991, this came down to 80 per cent and presently it is 70 per cent. In 30 years, 30 per cent non–Hindu population has been infused”. (The source of statistics is not mentioned in the report).

As for Bangladesh, “ISI is banking on strong communal and political support base for its activities in Bangladesh and Northeast”. The intelligence report says that though there has been a crackdown on some of the training camps and sanctuaries of insurgents from the North East after Begum Shaikh Hasina’s return to power in 1996, “insurgents and ISI continue to operate brazenly in Bangladesh”. The ISI enjoys the support from fundamentalist groups like the Jamaat–e–Islami, which is in the opposition now, and the government fears that “these fundamentalist groups will unleash large-scale violence if they are pushed beyond a certain point”.  

In the assessment of intelligence personnel, at best, these madrassas will breed a whole generation of Muslim youth armed, with a fundamentalist mindset but ill–equipped with this–worldly education or any skill to help them find a job.

The continuing and unchecked flow of illegal immigrants of Bangladeshis into West Bengal and Assam is working to the great advantage of the ISI, according to intelligence agencies, in two ways: it helps the ISI aim of seeing demographic changes in the border districts and it provides excellent cover for the ISI to operate under.  

If the intelligence reports are even partly true, it would be difficult to disagree with IG Narain’s claim that the ISI is a “frightening reality” for India today. Readers of Combat and others who are familiar with the impeccable credentials and integrity of an officer like Narain would necessarily take his concern with all the seriousness that it deserves (See his interview). Nonetheless, given the gravity of the situation, the assumptions and the information put together by the BSF intelligence machinery need to be carefully scrutinised?

The most jarring aspect of some of the state–level intelligence reports Combat has access to is the fact that several of the intelligence personnel seem to be looking at the emerging scenario in the border areas with their backs turned to India. They therefore, fail to see the full picture. And, in some cases, there is no escaping the fact that the officers concerned with preparing specific area reports are infected with strong anti-Islam and anti–Muslim prejudice.

Interestingly, all the project presentations on the growth of madrassas and mosques in the border areas of Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Assam take the year 1992 as their reference point. Why 1992? ‘After demolition of Babri Masjid’, one of the reports mentions very matter of factly.

It is a well–known fact that the Indian Muslim response to the assault on the Babri Masjid and sustained attacks on Muslims in different parts of the country before and in 1992–93, has been not a decline but an increase in the assertion of their religious identity and what might even be called ‘religiosity.’ For example, Muslims throughout the country reported larger than before attendance in mosques for namaaz after 1992.

Is it not very likely then, that for better or for worse, the growth in mosques and madrassas in the border districts is part of a countrywide pattern. But there is nothing in any of the intelligence reports to suggest that there is even a recognition of this phenomenon, leave alone an attempt to collect, compare and analyse figures from the border districts with figures from other districts in the country.

Equally well, there appears to have been no attempt on the part of the intelligence personnel to reflect on their own choice of the year 1992 as the reference point for investigation — Does not Hindutva’s stridency and belligerence have something to do with the Muslim ‘fundamentalist’ response?

To be fair, the authors of the main report on the ISI — which obviously has been whetted, if not written, by senior officials in the BSF hierarchy, unlike the state reports which have been handled by more junior personnel — does take some note of this multi–layered reality.

The main report observes at one point: “Unwittingly, certain political groups are abetting the fragmentation of India by isolation of the minorities. The ISI is exploiting this alienation to its advantage. The Coimbatore blasts were symptomatic of this painful truth. As India gets more polarised, new points of conflict will provide soft targets to the ISI”. The reference to the sangh parivar is obvious.

The fact that the same point is not made in a more blunt way has possibly got to do with the fact that the BJP leads the government at the Centre and none less than LK Advani, the man best remembered for his bloody Rathyatra, is today the Union home minister.

The concluding para of the main report on the ISI, too, is significant: “But the seeds of discord can only sprout where there is social inequity and political indifference. The government cannot depend merely on letters of protest to Pakistan or the meagrely funded counter–intelligence to meet the challenge posed by the ISI. It will be highly desirable to involve the people and build this resistance to exploitation. For that it is necessary that genuine grievances of the vulnerable sections of the society are removed and elements that have been alienated (read Indian Muslims?) brought back into the fold”.

That, however, is the perception at the top, while the reality on the ground is disturbing, to say the least. Here, for example, is one gem from the report on Gujarat and Rajasthan: “Earlier there was no rigidity or fanaticism in the minds of the Muslims of the border areas and the economic hardships necessitated perpetual inter–dependence between the communities. But (of) late, the evil influence of religious die–hards has drawn a deep wedge between the Hindus and the Muslim(s). With the Muslim fundamentalist organisations working ceaselessly in furtherance of their fanatic design, the border population is witnessing the emergence of aggressive form of a section of Muslims”.

Are the authors of this report talking of the same Gujarat which is today being increasingly described as ‘Hindutva’s laboratory’? Are they talking of the same BJP–ruled state where Muslims and Christians continue to be relentlessly hounded and attacked? How is it that the report which is replete with instances of Muslim fanaticism (“These madarsas are spitting venom for creating large–scale subversion”, etc.), does not have a word to say on what the Bajrang Dal, the VHP, the RSS and the BJP are doing and the impact this is sure to have on the psyche of ordinary Muslims and Christians of Gujarat?

Interestingly, a few months ago (April 20, 2000), at a top level meeting with police and intelligence officials in Ahmedabad the Union home minister made enquiries about the sudden growth of madrassas in Gujarat’s border districts.
At that meeting, the DG Intelligence, Gujarat, RN Bhattacharya, presented data to show that the number of madrassas in the border districts had grown but that the increase was neither less nor more than madrassas that had come up in other parts of the state. Therefore, Bhattacharya did not think there was anything noticeably worrisome in the pattern.

But, as mentioned above, the state level BSF intelligence has a very different story to tell on the “stunning growth” of madrassas in the border districts. Can one trust such a report which combines sweeping generalisations about Muslim fanaticism and extremism with shocking silence on the innumerable misdemeanours of the sangh parivar, especially in Gujarat?

The intelligence report on Gujarat and Rajasthan is clearly the worst but not the only one which reeks of anti–Muslim prejudice. Another report, Bangladesh influx in West Bengal: A Demographic Study, reads at one place: “This study relates only to the state of West Bengal with specific reference to Bangladesh Muslim illegal immigration, or to be more precise, infiltration (emphasis added) into India…It has been estimated that 6 million Hindus have left (emphasis added) Bangladesh for India for the period from 1971 to 1991 and not less than 6 million Bangladeshi Muslims infiltrated (emphasis added) into India during 1981 to 1991”.  

In their apparent anxiety over this “silent invasion” by Bangladeshi Muslims, the authors of the report even manage to muddle their statistics about the rapidly changing demographic profile of many districts of West Bengal. “In ten years, the Muslim population (of Malda) has leapt from being 15.27 per cent of the total population to being 47.47 per cent, whereas the Hindu population has come down from forming 54.49 per cent of the total population to forming 52.51 per cent”. Wouldn’t the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena love to hear this? But, elsewhere, the same report records that the Muslim population in Malda had increased from 45.27 (not 15.27) to 47.47 per cent! A 2.2 per cent increase no doubt, but “leap” is hardly the word to describe such growth.

Where bias is not so much the problem, there remains the question of insufficient homework. The report, ‘Influx of BD (Bangladeshi) nationals in Assam and its effect, causes and remedies’, is a good example of this. “A report kept secret by government officials states that out of 23 districts of Assam, 10 districts have become Muslim majority; they are: Dhubri, Goalpura, Barpeta, Bongaigaon, Nalbari, Kokrajhar, Lakhimpur, Darrang, Nowgong, Kamrup. The districts of Marigaon, Karimganj and Nagaon are likely to become Muslim majority by the year 2000”.

If this report is to be believed, already 13 out of the 23 districts of Assam are Muslim majority! But two pages later, the same report says, “It can be clearly seen that in 1991 the percentage of Hindu population in Assam showed decline from 72.51 in 1971 per cent to 67.13 per cent in 1991 whereas the percentage of Muslim population rose from 24.56 per cent in 1971 to 28.43 per cent in 1991”. How a less than four per cent increase squares up with the “report kept secret by government officials” about Assam having almost become a Muslim majority state is not explained.

The ISI’s resolve to place Islam in the hands of fanatic butchers — who kill, maim, drug and destroy in the name of their faith — poses a critical challenge to the Indian secular state, all its institutions and functionaries.

The author(s) of the report seem blissfully unaware, or unconcerned, of the existence of well–researched arguments such as the ones put forward by Anindita Dasgupta in a paper titled, Political Myth-making in post–colonial Assam and published by Himal from Kathmandu.

Based on her analysis of census data, Dasgupta points out: “Contrary to the ‘floating’ wisdom doing the rounds in Guwahati, the percentage of Muslims in Assam remained steady at 25 per cent (of the total population) for the entire period between 1941–71 and only increased to 28 per cent in the 20 years between 1971 and 1991. (There was no census in Assam in 1981).

The writer quotes census figures to show that in eight Indian states – Punjab, Rajasthan, Tripura, Haryana, Manipur, MP and Maharashtra — the rate of growth of Muslim population between 1971 and 1991 was higher than in Assam; in three other states – HP, UP and West Bengal, the growth rate was nearly the same as in Assam. Why, then, is no political party, no intelligence agency making any noise about the ‘abnormal’ increase in Muslim population in these 11 states?

Dasgupta also cites figures to show that the percentage representation of Muslims in the Assam Legislative Assembly has remained nearly constant between 1972 and now — ranging from 24 out of a total of 126 MLAs at present (19 per cent) to 21 out of 126 MLAs (20 per cent) in 1972. These figures, too, hardly suggest that a majority of Assam’s districts have turned into Muslim majority districts.

Dasgupta admits to a very large and ‘unnatural’ influx of poor peasants from the then East Bengal “which changed the demographic make up of the Valley forever”. But as she rightly points out, this migration took place between the turn of the century and 1940, and that it was a movement that at the time was welcomed by the native Asamiyas.  

While debunking the repeated but politically–motivated charge of continuing influx of Bangladeshis as “wild exaggeration”, Dasgupta makes a striking political point: “Without doubt, there are illegal foreign nationals in Assam, and a majority would be Muslim. But to write off a large Muslim community forming some 28 per cent of the total population of the state as ‘non-indigenous’, is not only simplistic, but inflammatory. In the end activism of this kind will only hurt Assam, as no polity can progress when the very basis of its self–perception is based on a fiction — that the Muslims of Assam are by and large ‘non–indigenous’.”

According to the author(s) of the intelligence reports, “the continuous influx has also given rise to a number of fundamentalist forces (reference to extremist organisations such as the Muslim Liberation Tigers of Assam, Muslim Liberation Army, Muslim Liberation Force) basically for defending the interest of Bangladeshi migrants”. But Dasgupta might have a radically different perspective on the issue because in her view: “For too long, the perceived problem of Bangla migrants has forced the minority Muslims of Assam to live under a cloud of suspicion”.  

In fact, the authors of the intelligence report make the observation at one point: “The formation of Muslim outfits in Assam was a noticeable phenomenon traced back to the early nineties…The continuous agitation over the foreigners issue and communal, ethnic clashes in which migrant Muslims were the prime victims can be construed as the main reason behind the formation of Muslim militant organisations. During 1992, the Muslim fundamentalist groups became very active in Assam on the mandir/mosque issue and the revision of electoral roles”.

One charge often levelled is that ISI-driven activities intensified in Tamil Nadu after the BJP became a political presence, and was backed by rabid outfits like the Hindu Munnani.

How should one choose between the intelligence report on Assam which merely quotes politicians and uncritically doles out statistics torn out of historical context, on the one hand, and well–reasoned arguments like those of Dasgupta that also show how politicians have a vested interest in keeping the foreigner issue alive in Assam, on the other?

Meeting the ISI’s challenge
While speaking in the Lok Sabha on April 27, 2000, the Union home minister, LK Advani gave a special call to Indian Muslims asking them to give a fitting reply to the jehad call given by Pakistan’s ISI.

If Advani, the RSS–VHP–Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena have their way, 120 million Indian Muslims will need to spring to attention and prove their nationalistic credentials each time foreign mercenaries kill innocent Hindus in the name of Islam, an ISI agent is caught peddling fake currency in the Indian market, a drug peddler is nabbed outside our colleges, or a handful of Muslims are arrested for executing an ISI-hatched plot to bomb churches with the intention of creating Hindu-Christian tension.

The diabolical game–plan of Pakistan’s Inter–Services Intelligence (ISI), today poses the most serious challenge to the professionalism and neutrality of Indian security, paramilitary and police forces. More than anything, the ISI’s resolve to place Islam in the hands of fanatic butchers — who kill, maim, drug and destroy in the name of their faith — poses a critical challenge to the Indian secular state, all its institutions and functionaries.

In the backdrop of a heightened communal discourse within Indian civil society, a discourse accorded legitimacy by politically dominant forces, the Indian security, intelligence and police machinery will be required to pass the litmus test of neutrality while gathering evidence, taking preventive measures, or nabbing the culprits. Such neutrality is the crying need of the hour, the only bulwark against the deterioration of the discourse into a virulent communal tirade.

The strident champions of Hindutva constantly seek to equate all Indian Muslims with Pakistan or the ISI. Nothing can be a more potent recipe for further alienation and disaster. The law keepers will need to guard against this danger as diligently as they need to keep a vigil on the criminal anti–India nexus.

Since influencing or altering the mindset of the Indian Muslim is an integral part of the ISI’s diabolical plot, how this strategy is being put to work certainly needs to be carefully monitored and countered. But to do this job professionally, intelligence personnel also need to reflect on the mindset with which they themselves operate. If some of the personnel engaged in intelligence gathering themselves suffer from anti–Muslim bias, they will only end up making the ISI’s job that much easier.

The very social reality of India makes compelling demands. Like it or not, India is a multifarious and diverse society, culturally and in terms of religious belief. Visions of a homogeneous Islamic ummah or the project for a Hindu rashtra will face the greatest stumbling block in this rich multiplicity that includes 160 million Dalits and 120 million Muslims, not to mention 70 million tribals. These are not insignificant numbers to trifle with.

In living with this diversity, the state and the civil society in India have shown visible strains. Its democratic and secular credentials have repeatedly been held to ransom by squads of the Hindu right wing that have transgressed the Indian Constitution which unequivocally stands for fair and equal treatment of all — regardless of caste, community and gender.

The particularly piquant situation demands ruthlessly fair dealings with home–bred fanatics like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Shiv Sena (SS), Hindu Munnani — all ideologically backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — who are forever spitting venom against innocent Muslims, forever ready to make them pay for the sins of the ISI. (See the story on Surat riots in this issue).

The intelligence agencies need to be particularly diligent when drawing conclusions on the ‘stunning growth of madrassas’ and examining their ideological and organisational links with “pan–Islamism” and the “jehad” mentality.
As educational institutions run by religious bodies, madrassas and pathshalas have for long been a fact of life on the Indian sub–continent. Before drawing conclusions on their role and motive it is essential that the collection, collation and sifting of material be handled professionally and sensitively.

It has been a sociologically observed fact that in the past decade or so, with the growth of violence against India’s religious minorities, a dual tendency has been in evidence among Indian Muslims. On the one hand, there is a very visible and focussed movement towards education (non-religious) and vocational training. On the other, is the seeking of refuge in religious organisations for security of religious identity? (See CC, March 1999, The Enemy Within).

The possibility of the ISI and some other Muslim fundamentalist organisations attempting to replicate in India the ‘rewarding’ Pakistani experience of transforming madrassas into breeding grounds for jehad certainly exists. The recent example of the alleged role of the Deendar Anjuman sect in Andhra Pradesh with its links in Pakistan, is a clear indicator.

But it is unclear from the BSF intelligence reports whether some of its authors are merely assuming, instead of establishing through proper investigation, that the education being imparted in the madrassas that have come up after 1992 are preaching love for Pakistan, the ISI and jehad?

A far more careful study of the content and teaching of madrassas is called for, for two reasons. Firstly, to prevent crimes like the one indulged in by leaders of the Deendar Anjuman sect. Secondly, to avoid apparently sweeping and unsubstantiated linkages being drawn between madrassas coming up on Indian soil with the motivation that now inspires madrassa teaching across the border. The intelligence agencies must not assume but establish, case by case, what is being taught in the madrassas this side of the border.

To equate religious orthodoxy with religious extremism, or to equate Indian Muslims with Pakistan is to play straight into the hands of the very demon we claim to be fighting. 

Such careful scrutiny is particularly required to prevent the misuse of raw or undeveloped data by overzealous law enforcement officials and self–seeking politicians in our midst.

Senior intelligence and police officials all over the country have been unequivocal on the explosive potential of the ‘competitive communalism’ that has led to religious extremism especially in the south. One charge often levelled is that ISI-driven activities intensified in Tamil Nadu after the BJP became a political presence, and was backed by rabid outfits like the Hindu Munnani. The local climate was charged enough with vitriol to induce SA Basha of the Al Umma to coordinate with other Muslim groups, gather angry and disgruntled Muslim youngsters to ‘counter’ the BJP.

The Justice Gokulakrishnan Commission that investigated the serial bomb blasts in Coimbatore in February 1998, points out that the propaganda of Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists was one of the primary reasons for the vicious communal atmosphere in Coimbatore that ultimately led to the explosions. No wonder, then, that within hours of the blasts, scores of militant Hindus set fire to shops and establishments owned by Muslims in Coimbatore.

Intelligence gathering and strategy formation on the critical question of tackling an agency like the ISI must, of necessity, focus on the activities and dangers posed by Hindu communal outfits to the social climate within our cities, towns and villages. They cannot deal, in an isolated fashion, with the resonance that the ISI finds among a minuscule section of Muslims. A small group of Muslims is enough to perform dastardly crimes. But number wise, they remain insignificant in terms of the total population of the community.

An absence of this impartial and even–handed approach poses dangers of grave misuse of the law and victimising of innocents. It also has the potential of causing deeper hurt and growing alienation.

The recent declarations by outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal that they would set up security outposts along the international border to counter the ISI’s growing intrusion on Indian soil have raised alarm among defence and border security officials. Some have even gone on record saying, “Such extra-constitutional bodies cannot be allowed to function in the sensitive border areas…Once a Hindu army is allowed to come up, what is there to stop a Muslim army from being raised. This has dangerous and sinister implications.”

Welcome words, but not good enough. Our internal law and order machinery is repeatedly paralysed when it comes to tackling the unconstitutional, unlawful and inflammatory politics of the VHP and Bajrang Dal to whom the BJP party and governments provide cover.

Ill–informed and one-sided intelligence adversely affects the conduct of our police force and security agencies; in the worst cases, they reinforce existing prejudice. And lead to a repeat of situations like the incidents of gross police misconduct against the students from the Shibli National Post Graduate College (SNPC), Azamgarh and the Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi. Both institutions, proud of their rich nationalist heritage and genesis in the freedom movement, were targeted first by the rightwing groups of the sangh parivar (the ABVP) and thereafter subjected to violent and humiliating raids by the state police. (See CC, May 2000).

A fact–finding team that visited Azamgarh, UP, found that all the arrested boys who happened to be Muslims were not allowed to sleep for four days, were beaten black and blue in the jail everyday, repeatedly forced to shout, ‘Jai Hanuman’, sodomised by hardened criminals at the instigation of some people (who used to roam inside the jail as officials but seemed to have direct links with the Hindu communal organisations) and were bailed out only by the Allahabad High Court. The lower judiciary, either fearful or sympathetic to the blatant religious persecution meted out to the young boys (like shaving off their beards) did not even defend their basic human rights!

Jamia was targeted on April 9. Reports by investigating human rights’ groups tell us that here the Delhi police took upon itself the responsibility of teaching a lesson to the ‘ISI agents’, ‘Pakistanis’, ‘anti-national’, Muslim hostelites of the university. The rampaging Delhi police, while using phrases such as, ‘Pakistan bana rakkha hae yahan’, (‘You have made this into a Pakistan!’) specifically targeted students with beards and wearing kurta-pyjama. Students, busy preparing for their examinations were flung down two storeys of the hostel, with the police shouting “Mulla ki tang pakar ke laa” (“Drag the mullah by his leg”).

The life and property of the minority community has been systematically targeted with a view to cripple their economic activity and businesses — pearl trading in Hyderabad, textiles in Surat and Hyderabad, shops and establishments in Coimbatore, the leather and timber trade in Bombay belonging to the minorities have been destroyed. The resultant ghettoisation of Indian cities and towns has made a mockery of Indian law and the Constitution.

In turn, this has led to acute despair and alienation among the minorities, a minuscule section of whom thereafter provided the ideal breeding ground for the ISI waiting in the wings for such opportunities. The serial bomb blasts in Bombay in March 1993 came fast on the heels of systematic violence and public posturings of hatred and venom by Shiv Sena chief, Bal Thackeray, and an abdication of responsibility by the state.

Five years later, in Coimbatore, too, bomb blasts (February 1998) were the tragic response to the earlier brutal bloodletting against the city’s minorities by members of the Hindu Munnani helped by the state police (November 1997).
If an outfit like the ISI is to be countered effectively, the task on hand  will make severe demands on the police and paramilitary’s unflinching professionalism and neutrality. With the bloody blemishes of the recent past on their record, the moot question is, will they be able to deliver?

Senior officers within the Indian paramilitary, intelligence and police agencies have been pressing the central government to release a detailed and authenticated document on the reach and strategy of the ISI. This would minimise the chances of the communalisation of the debate and render executive and police actions more visible.

But for reasons best known to himself, Advani, who had earlier promised to place before Parliament a White Paper on the activities of the ISI in India, is now dragging his feet. It is crucial that he does come out with the White Paper so that the people of India learn to distinguish between the ISI that is a “frightening reality” and the “ISI bogey” that the Hindu right repeatedly resorts to in order to demonise Indian Muslims.

It would be an equally welcome step if the home ministry releases regular updates with lists of the persons held spying and other anti-national activities to counter Hindutva’s false propaganda that all Indians who spy or work for Pakistan/ISI are Muslims.

To equate religious orthodoxy with religious extremism, or to equate Indian Muslims with Pakistan is to play straight into the hands of the very demon we claim to be fighting.            

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th) Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 1 
Muslims not the only culprits'

Sanjay Nirupam is the editor of the Shiv Sena mouthpiece, Dopahar ka Saamna. He is also a Rajya Sabha MP. By virtue of his double distinction one would imagine that he is a well–informed man. In the popular weekly programme, ‘The Big Fight’, telecast by Star TV a few weeks ago, Nirupam was the ‘big fighter’ on the Sena’s behalf in the debate over whether the Maharashtra government should or should not act on the recommendations of the Srikrishna Commission pertaining to the Mumbai riots. Teesta Setalvad, on the other hand, argued strongly in support of the implementation of the commission’s recommendations.

During the programme, Nirupam repeatedly demanded to know why people arrested in India for spying for Pakistan or acting as agents of the ISI were all Indian Muslims.

In raising this question, Nirupam was either lying or furnishing proof of his utter ignorance on the subject. For Union home minister LK Advani could any day remind him, if he so desired, that of the several persons from his own ministry who were arrested on charges of passing on vital information to Pakistan in the midst of the Lok Sabha polls last year, not one was a Muslim.

We would like to draw the ill–informed or communally motivated Nirupam’s attention to the answer given by the IG Intelligence, BSF, Vibhuti Rai to a question on ISI agents in India. (See Rai’s interview in this issue).

We challenge Nirupam to prevail upon Big Brother Advaniji to release a full list of all those charged with acting as agents of Pakistan/ISI since Independence. Meanwhile, to cite just a few instances, we reproduce below excerpts from news reports published by different national newspapers in recent years pointing out that non–Muslims, too, have been nabbed for acting against the national interest.

Arrested Pakistan militant is Hindu

JAMMU, August 11: For the first time in the over a decade long period of militancy, the Jammu police have arrested a Hindu youth who is a dreaded Pakistan-Afghanistan militant. Four of his associates, including two Hindus were also arrested. They were sent to Jammu by Major Irfan of Inter–Services Intelligence (ISI) to disrupt the city on Independence Day.

A huge quantity of arms and ammunition, two very powerful explosive devices including a milk container IED and a tiffin–bomb (filled with RDX) were recovered during the arrests.

The arrested militant, who had joined Hizbul Mujahideen sometime back after his differences with Harkat–ul Jehad Islami (HUJI) outfit, has been identified as Bharat Kumar alias Bharat Singh alias Bharat Malhotra alias Munna (code name Tariq), a resident of Jammu City’s outskirts. His four associates include Harjit Singh alias Jeeta of Jammu, Sodagar Singh of RS Pura, Sammi–ul–Rehman alias Sammi and Sheikh Mukhtiar, both residents of Jammu. (Mid–Day, August 11, 2000).

"The ISI is now luring Hindu youth from Jammu and Muslim boys from Uttar Pradesh to act as couriers for them in an attempt to hoodwink the security forces.

(From the Intelligence report on ISI)

‘ISI presence in India is massive’

MUMBAI: Top state government officials yesterday said that the access of Pakistan’s Inter–Services Intelligence (ISI) was not restricted to Muslims here alone.

"More than Muslims, ISI agents are said to be mingling on the sly with members of the majority community and that makes our job of combing these dangerous elements real difficult and challenging," these officials admitted.

They said there were more undercover ISI agents among the Hindus than in the Muslim community. "And we suspect that ISI contacts in the majority community are highly educated and influential people with connections in politics," officials said.

According to these sources, money, which was said to be available aplenty with the ISI, was the single most factor that ‘brought’ the dreaded outfit ‘sympathisers’ in the majority community.

"It is a misnomer then that ISI men take shelter in Muslim areas and mingle only with the minority community. The fact, ironically, is they mostly mingle with the Hindus and may be operating from such localities where you have the least suspicion of finding them," officials said.

(Afternoon Despatch and Courier, July 15, 1998).

Cop sacked for links with ISI

Bombay, Oct. 22 (PTI) Police Commissioner A. S. Samra has removed a police inspector from service in connection with his involvement in the case of an Iranian national, suspected to be a spy of the Inter–Services Intelligence of Pakistan, who was nabbed in the city.

Inspector Prabhakar Ingle, attached to Pydhonie station in South Bombay, was the chief investigating officer in the case involving the Iranian national.

The Commissioner served a notice to inspector Ingle on Wednesday night terminating his services under Article 311 of the Constitution of India under which the police chief has the powers to remove from service any staff member if there is a prima facie case of his links with anti–social elements.

On similar grounds, Mr Samra had removed from service two senior inspectors of police, Mr Vinayak Patil of Antop Hill police station and Mr S. P. Kalankar of Oshiwara police station, in May and July last, respectively.

(The Hindustan Times, October 23, 1993)

Another defence staff held for spying

AHMEDNAGAR, AUG. 8. Close on the heels of arrest of a senior officer of the Army’s Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (VRDE) here on Monday, police apprehended another employee on charges of spying for Pakistan’s Inter–Services Intelligence (ISI).

Police sources told PTI here today that Achut Menon, a technical assistant in VRDE, had allegedly supplied vital secret documents to the ISI.

The Additional Sessions Judge (First Class) here today remanded Menon to police custody for 12 days, the sources added. Police had last night arrested Sunil Kadanna Chinchane (40), who had stolen classified information and allegedly sent it to Pakistan through the Internet.

(The Hindu, August 9, 2000, news report)

ISI infiltrated into Dalits, OBCs : Book

NEW DELHI, DEC 26: The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan has infiltrated into the Dalits and other backward classes to carry out subversive activities against India, a new book on Kargil says.

Pak Proxy War: A Story of ISI, Bin Laden and Kargil, by Rajeev Sharma claims the ISI has been recruiting members of Dalit and the other backward classes since the mid–90s with the help of the under-world in Mumbai, Dubai and Nepal. The underworld funded the ISI’s design and promoted a nexus among Muslims, Dalits and the backward classes at its bidding, it points out. It goes on to add that the ISI also targeted members of renowned Muslim organisations who did not buy their plan.

(UNI, The Indian Express, December 27, 1999)

ULFA informs ISI via Internet

Darshan Balwally (Guwahati, June 25):

The inscrutable Internet is proving a challenge to the intelligence wing of the Indian Army in keeping track of the messages allegedly passed on to the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) wing of Pakistan by the banned United Liberation Front of Asom. Faced with the Herculean task of tracking down websites, allegedly established by the insurgents, the 4th Corps of the Army, at Tezpur, has recently acquired specialists endowed with skills to peep into suspicious websites.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an extremely knowledgeable source in the Indian Army admitted recently that "we had ‘electronics experts’ flown in" some days ago. However, more sinister, according to senior Army officials, is ULFA’s rapidly becoming hi–tech. Armed with computers, the ULFA cadres/ sympathisers are suspected to be feeding information to various sources within and outside the country through websites.

(The Hindustan Times, June 26, 1999).


"If a section of minority community is involved in anti—India activity then so are the members of the majority community who have reportedly joined the ISI for easy money. It is the majority community that dominates the ULFA whose links with ISI have been confirmed".

(From the Intelligence report on ISI)

Meghalaya couple arrested

On Sept 27th 99, the Meghalaya police arrested a couple suspected to have close links with ISI with an amount of Rs.46,000 fake currency. Couple was identified as Rajendra Rahul Yadav and Minu Marak from a village in Meghalaya district.

(From the Intelligence report on ISI)

I am not an ISI agent, says Raja Bhaiyya

…Mr Sandhu in an interview to India’s Most Wanted programme, telecast on Zee TV last week, had said that Mr Raghuraj Pratap Singh, also known as Raja Bhaiyya, was working as an ISI agent and supplying arms to the notorious Brijesh Singh gang of UP, besides harbouring criminals of the rival Mukhtar Ansari gang.

UP minister Raghuraj Pratap Singh reacted by demanding a CBI enquiry against himself so that a verification of the IPS officer’s charges could be made at the earliest. According to the minister, relations between himself and the officer have been strained since the time the officer was posted as superintendent of police in Pratapgarh district.

(The Asian Age, June 9, 1999)

ISI–trained Sikh militants find haven

in Bengal

Calcutta: AT LEAST 200 Sikh extremists, all trained by the Pakistani secret agency Inter Service Intelligence, are now very much in West Bengal, Punjab director–general of police KPS Gill said. This has sent shivers down the spine of almost every sleuth engaged in intelligence activities, leave alone the highly tensed up higher officials.

These extremists belong to the Khalistani Commando Force and the Babbar Khalsa group but there are half a dozen dreaded activists belonging to the Panjwa group and they carry a cash award of Rs 50 lakh if caught red–handed. If state police intelligence higher–ups are to be believed, a Gurdwara near Baranagar and another in south Calcutta shelter some of these extremists.

(The Observer of Business and Politics, January 12, 1994).

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th) Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 2

‘If our minorities loose faith in the Indian state, they will be easy prey for the ISI’
Teesta Setalvad spoke to the IG Intelligence, BSF, Vibhuti Narain Rai in Delhi. 

Pakistan’s Inter–State Intelligence agency is increasingly being mentioned as the hand behind most extremist acts in the country. What are the facts about the ISI’s involvement in them? How much of it is xenophobic fiction? 
The ISI is a frightening reality today. I personally feel that as an institution, it is the biggest challenge and threat which the Indian state is facing today.  We must face this challenge unitedly as a nation. 

Today, if a Hindu girl marries a Muslim boy in Gujarat, sections of the media and Hindu extremist groups label it as the handiwork of the ISI! In the circumstances, do you not agree that the central government owes it to the people of this country to publish a White Paper on the ISI, to furnish proof of its  network and activities in India?

I think we should publish a White Paper that details the scope and reach of the ISI and the threat that it represents. This will put all the facts before the people on the far-reaching network of the agency and its activities. Such a document will also prevent the attempt by some to use the ISI as a bogey, as one more stick to bash some of our own people with!

To prevent the creation of such irresponsible phobias — in the sixties and seventies, if you recall, the CIA hand was behind every incident in the country — we need such a responsible document that places the findings of professional investigation before the public. At the same time, it should be candid about our own internal mistakes.

Doesn’t the government’s refusal to place such a document before Parliament and the people help fuel more rumours and phobia about the ISI and which in turn is given communal-sectarian connotations by extremist organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena ?
I repeat that such a White Paper in the nature of a public document should be released. And we must have the strength and capability of realising our own mistakes internally. This document must contain details of the intelligence collected, dangers to be guarded against. It must take our people, especially the intelligentsia, into confidence. 
We should not provide breeding grounds to the ISI. If our minorities loose faith in the Indian State, due to acts of commissions and omissions of the police or other agencies they will be easy prey for the ISI.

Could you elaborate?
What were the bomb blasts in Mumbai after all? We presented a golden opportunity to the ISI to utilise the despair and disenchantment caused by the viciously motivated violence against the minorities in December 1992 and January 1993.

Given the sensitive nature of the situation, how must a force like the ISI be tackled?
A threat like the one posed to India by the ISI has to be tackled on two fronts: one, as a law and order issue, internally; and, two, on the international front. On the first front, the implementation of the law must be firm and neutral. In fact, the neutrality of the police force, paramilitary and other wings of the law and order machinery are absolute prerequisites if the ISI threat is to be tackled effectively. 

There is no other country in the world that can boast of a minority that is 120–million strong. Yet, it is this community whose ‘nationalistic credentials’ are constantly ‘suspect’ because of the religious–communal dimension of the ISI–driven propaganda.
The second front on which the ISI must be dealt with involves ultra-professionalism and political expertise because here we are dealing with international crime that is geared to exploiting our weaknesses from within.

Has the ISI hand been established in recent bomb blasts in churches in Goa, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka?
Investigations are still on but I will not be at all surprised if the ISI hand is finally proven. Pakistan is an ideological state based on the two-nation theory and the peaceful co-existence of different communities on Indian soil disproves the very foundation of Pakistan. To negate this peaceful co–existence, the ISI would go to any extent.
Ironically, at the other end of the spectrum are Hindu fascist organisations whose basic philosophy, too, militates against the idea of different religious communities and peoples of many identities living together, co–existing. Their approach, too, supports Pakistan’s two–nation theory. 

I personally would not be at all  surprised if a criminal like Dara Singh, who is espouses hatred against Indian Christians, is found to be an ISI agent!
If we, as the Indian State, as the law enforcement authorities, or as Indian civil society, refuse to distinguish between the ISI and Indian Muslims and constantly blur this crucial distinction, we are playing into the hands of the ISI. We are supporting the genesis of the two–nation theory, which is exactly what the ISI wants. 

Any organization, whether Hindu or Muslim, which propagates hatred and believes that Hindus and Muslims represent two different civilizations and have no commonalities is playing the ISI game.

Are there any typical areas in the country from within which the ISI recruits its potential agents?
From our intelligence reports, we have been able to glean that the ISI’s strategy is to take its recruits from industrial towns with floating populations. For example, Panipat (Haryana) and Pilakhuva (Uttar Pradesh) where we have weaving/dyeing and chemical explosive units.
In these towns they create their hideouts in what are known as ‘safe houses’, from where they build up their contact persons. For example, in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, we unearthed an ISI network that was spying on the Air Force base there. The links are closely developed and nurtured. It is only when one of these links breaks that the plan/conspiracy is unearthed.

In India we blame the ISI, in Pakistan RAW is constantly blamed for acts of insurgency. For example, RAW was claimed to be behind a spate of recent bomb blasts in trains in Sindh etc. Are not the agencies of both countries using similar tactics to de-stabilise local law and order situations? Why blame only one of them?
I do not deny that RAW may also be using some counter–insurgency tactics within Pakistan. But the ISI is much more professional and much more ruthless than us. They function within a scenario where there is no democracy, no autonomy and no shortage of funds.

In the whole of South Asia, today, narco–terrorism is controlled by the ISI and India is being used as a conduit with narcotics being smuggled  via Rajasthan, Punjab and Jammu. After the bomb blasts in Mumbai, Dawood Ibrahim shifted his base from Bombay to Karachi and is reportedly working for the ISI.

Is there any community–specific recruitment by the ISI given the communal undertones of the animosities between the two countries?
If you were to examine in detail all the espionage–related arrests made since Independence, we can see that non–Muslims — Hindus, Christians and Sikhs — have all been caught for spying. This includes those caught for spying at the army headquarters, defence establishments, our top scientific establishments. Monetary gains and the greed for more are not confined to a particular community! For money, hard cash, anybody will do anything.

However, when it comes to the burgeoning of madrassas and the kind of teaching that takes place within them, other factors play a role. It is only when a section of people, an entire religious community in this case, feels wronged and alienated — and can there be any question that that is how India’s religious minorities are feeling at the moment? — when their faith in the impartiality of the state machinery is completely eroded, that they become easy prey for the designs of an outfit like the ISI. We are allowing the ISI to penetrate here by our own mistakes. Apni galtiyon se ham ISI ko palne aur phailne ka mauka de rahen hain. They are growing not because of their own capabilities but because of our mistakes.

But madrassas have for long been a fact of life in India just as pathshalas and other religion-driven educational institutions have been. Then why talk only of madrassas? Have their been any studies conducted on the curricular content of teaching within the traditional madrassas and those that have reportedly mushroomed in the border areas between India and Nepal and India and Bangladesh in recent years?
No comprehensive study on the curricular teachings within madrassas has so far been made. But we do have the concrete example of Tripura where state intervention has yielded positive results. In Tripura, the state was contributing to the grants made to madrassas. The state’s DGP suggested a deepening of the madrassa curriculum to include within its scope vocational training like computer application. This has made a marked difference in the opportunities available to the students who emerge out of these institutions in terms of job prospects. 

What have our agencies concluded about the nature and orientation of the ISI, its thrust, focus and intentions?
The ISI is a ruthless organisation. It needs to be combated strongly and firmly. We have inputs about its activities in Delhi, Assam, UP, Andhra Pradesh and border areas.
A common pattern observed is that potential ISI recruits hail from the lower middle class. The madrassa and madrassa education plays a crucial role in preparing the mind–set of youngsters. Having been taught in essence that jehad is an integral part of Islam, they are then willing to transgress all limits to achieve their aims. 

For example, part of the training that takes place at Muridke by the Dawa–ul–Irshad (where recruits of the Lashkar–e–Toeba hail from) in Pakistan is to teach the young Muslim who hails from a poor background is that he is not a real Muslim unless he undertakes this mission of jehad.

We have the phenomenon of an increasing number of such madrassas  mushrooming in parts of India, especially in the border areas of Nepal and Bengal. Where will the recruits from such institutions go, what will they do once they emerge from these madrassas? The madrassas offer no vocational training, the entire approach to education is to control thought and stifle dissent (See ‘Moulding of a moulvi’s mind, CC, January, 1995). For a recruit emerging out of here, jehad becomes an occupation. What else are they fit for, only one in so many can become a muezzin in a mosque?

The very idea of building madrassas that impart education with a very limiting curriculum is to create potential recruits for the ISI.

But madrassas have existed for centuries. So, how justified is the assumption of the Indian intelligence agencies that the recent sprouting of madrassas, especially in border districts, is part of an ISI grand design? How justified is the assumption that these madrassas, like the ones in Pakistan, have the same ideological thrust towards jehad and pan-Islamism? 
Madrassas have been used by the ISI for recruiting new agents and for subversive propaganda against the Indian State. Personally I feel that madrassas are against Muslims themselves. The education and orientation imparted within the madrassa system does not help the community in acquiring a progressive, scientific and modern outlook. Rather, it makes them backward and incapable of facing the challenges of living in contemporary society. You will rarely ever find a rich or politically well–placed Muslim sending his children to a madrassa.

Some organisations seem to be deliberately creating the impression in the public mind that Muslims alone get lured by the ISI. Since this is not true, why can’t the government release a list of those arrested for spying for Pakistan to counter such motivated propaganda? 
Normally when an ISI agent or spy working for Pakistan is arrested, his names and details are published in newspapers. There can be no harm done if a consolidated list is published from time to time. I would again like to reiterate the fact that large numbers of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians have been arrested over the years for spying for Pakistan. In many cases it is monetary gain which is the motivating factor. 

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th)Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 3

Tit for tat?
The sangh parivar makes Gujarat’s Muslims pay for the killing of innocent Hindus in J & K by Pakistani mercenaries

The dreaded finally happened. The cynically targeted bullets of Pakistan’s
mercenaries, that claimed the life of 100 innocent Hindu pilgrims headed for the Amarnath caves and ordinary labourers in different parts of J & K (some died in the cross–fire between the paramilitary forces and the extremists) had a devastating fallout in far–flung Gujarat.


In Ahmedabad, Surat, Sabarkantha (Lamabadiya, Khed Brahma and Modasa villages), Palanpur and Rajkot, Muslim business establishments — powerlooms, granaries, printing presses, shops and godowns — were cold-bloodedly targeted by the indigenous terrorist squads. They were led by elected representatives belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal (BD).

A senior correspondent of the Financial Express has estimated that in Surat alone the total damage caused by the selective destruction through full-fledged arson of Muslim-owned power looms at Rs. 10 crores. In the Modasa village of Sabarkantha district, of the 63 business establishments charred to ash, 51 belonged to Muslims and 12 to Hindus.

Within hours of the massacre on our northern border, the leaders of Hindu extremist outfits expressed were gearing up for ‘retaliation’.

In Gujarat, the intentions were clearly ruthless and sinister. The international general secretary of the VHP, Praveen Togadia, announced at a press conference in Ahmedabad on August 2 that the VHP was declaring a state–wide bandh to protests the massacres. The Gujarat government, ruled by the BJP, formally declared its support to the bandh. Within hours, all–Gujarat-based textile manufacturing associations and the Surat Textiles Federation and Diamond Merchants had also extended support.

If Gujarat is ‘Hindutva’s laboratory’, as the proud proponents of this political ideology have so often declared, what happened in the state on the day of the bandh — August 3 — should be viewed as one more instance of Hindutva in action.

The fact that all sections closed down business and shops on that fateful day, to express their outrage at the killing of the Amarnath yatris and other innocent Hindus, was just not enough for the squads of Hindu rashtra. Office bearers of the VHP and BD — in many cases helped by elected representatives of the BJP – publicly bayed for revenge. And they got it. With the help of the government and the police. In the form of destruction worth crores of property and businesses owned by Muslims in the state.

When asked what his organisation planned to do the next day, Raju Desai of the Bajrang Dal had declared in a live interview to a local Surti channel, Eyewitness, at 11.30 p.m. the night before the bandh: “Tomorrow, we will create problems, 100 people have been killed at the border”.

When interviewed by this writer, Nikhil Shah, a journalist working for a local newspaper, Pratinidhi, revealed that on the morning of the bandh, he was present at a meeting of the Bajrang Dal at Varaccha Road attended by around 400 activists. At the meeting, a leader of the Bajrang Dal was entrusting batches of 50 volunteers each with the responsibility of a particular area. All of them were given a specific brief, “Create trouble. If shops are open shut them down. Where shops are already shut, destroy the Muslim-owned ones.” The groups left on their assignments armed with iron rods, lathis and other instruments.

The role of the police in Surat and the rest of Gujarat has raised many questions. In Surat, police commissioner Kuldip Sharma has been credited with evacuating to safety some 2,000 Muslims from Vishramnagar and Ravitalao. He also arrested, on-the–spot, two corporators belonging to the BJP (Ganesh Prajapathi and Suresh Varodia) who were caught carrying iron rods, lathis and swords in their vehicles on August 4.

Despite these steps, however, the failure of Sharma and his force to act on the publicly declared intentions of the Bajrang Dal and the VHP, in Surat at least, his instructions to strip the policeman of rifles the day before the bandh and the noticeable absence of the police in areas where homes and businesses were destroyed over a three–four hour period (Vishramnagar itself that had also suffered in 1992 in the post–Babri Masjid bouts of communal frenzy) on August 3, has generated outrage.

Sharma’s explanation for some of his conduct is the barrage of political pressure that he came under from the goon squads of the BJP–VHP–BD after Ganapati immersion day last year when the unruly behaviour by the processionists had led to police firing in which three persons died.

Whichever way one looks at it, both the administration and the police were either browbeaten into paralysis, or they actually assisted the zealots. When a 1,000–strong mob stormed into and destroyed the Famous Boot House in Saraspur, Ahmedabad, where were the cops? The assault of an elderly Muslim couple with a man wielding a trishul just outside the Navapura chowky in Surat (see photo) only proves the point.

Eighty–seven incidents of criminal acts have been lodged under one-composite FIR in Surat. State–wide offences also record details of criminal and provocative actions in which VHP and Bajrang Dal activists have been named. If the past record is anything to go by, no arrests are expected to follow.

In other parts of Gujarat, squads of the Hindu extremist groups had a field day on bandh day. As never before, the bandh–related violence exposed the lawlessness of not merely the VHP–BD squads but the BJP’s elected representatives.

The miscreants destroyed a dargah in Ahmedabad, stoned the collectorate in Rajkot, destroyed 40 buses of the Gujarat State Road Transport Corporation (the tyres of 283 buses were deflated to make a point), attacked the Birla Secondary High School in Porbunder, attacked St Xaviers Society schools in Meghraj and Billimoria. It was well-planned anarchy meant to paralyse, threaten and browbeat even the law and order machinery.

All the incidents in different parts of Gujarat were obviously aimed at economically crippling the minority community. Total number of lives lost were the five, from Surat. In Lambadiya village, rocks were hurled at Muslim shops and even some homes continuously over two days (August 4 and 5), destroying the harmony existing between adivasis and the minorities for centuries. The scale and venom of the stone throwing led to mass–scale evacuation from the villages in impoverished conditions.

Two years ago, when sustained violence broke out in Randhikpur and Sanjeli in Gujarat (see Welcome to Hindu Rashtra, CC, Oct 1998), the destruction had also been pre-planned to enable the takeover of the local transport business from the hands of Muslims once they were cleansed out of the area through terror tactics.

From power looms in Surat, to the local granaries/godowns of grain merchants of Sabarkantha, to shops and printing presses elsewhere, the singular objective seems to have been the destruction of businesses and economic crippling of Muslims.

Gujarat state, the laboratory for Hindutva, has witnessed a qualitatively different kind of violence unleashed on both Muslims and Christians since the BJP returned to power in February 1998. Innocent Christians and Christian missionaries have been made targets of a venomous and unsubstantiated propaganda against the alleged “conversion motive” of their institutions, even as the same Hindu political elite patronises convent schools! The sub–text behind the attacks on Muslims has of late been dominated by “ultra nationalist” venom and discourse.

In July 1999, in the midst of a world cup cricket contest (in which Pakistan and India also played against each other) and the conflict in Kargil, the streets of Ahmedabad sprouted barely–veiled threats in graffiti that came up in Muslim dominated areas overnight. Under the banner of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha, they hurled threats at Indian Muslims while abusing Pakistanis and Nawaz Sharif. On July 21-22 the charged atmosphere led to a communal skirmish. Again, the Bajrang Dal used this chance to attack Muslim shops and establishments.

Gujarat goes in for elections at the corporation level (in Surat and some other towns) and panchayat level all over the state in September 2000. Hindutva’s response to the tragic massacre of Amarnath yatris is being viewed by political observers in the state as preparation for the polls. And the ‘success’ of the bandh-driven violence is being evaluated as pre-poll success for the BJP.

An emasculated and impotent political opposition in the shape of the Congress(I) — the tribal areas where the violence broke out is Amarsingh Chowdhury’s constituency — will make the BJP’s march to victory (that has little else to tom–tom to the people about, in terms of performance) easier than before.

A judicial inquiry into the post-bandh violence is what local and national rights groups are demanding, given the serious questions about the conduct of the executive, administration and the police machinery. Though compensation has been announced by the state, in Surat at least the amounts being dished out do not in any way reflect the extent of the damage.

The land that gave us Gandhi — the sub-continent’s apostle of non-violence and communal harmony — stands bloodied and battered once again by the brute force of Hindutva.

(A fact–finding report on the violence is Gujarat is being collectively prepared by various groups, including the Quami Ektra Trust, Sanchetana, Dakshin Gujarat Adivasi Sangh, Vikas Adhyan Kendra, Gujarat, and the People’s Union for Human Rights. This writer was part of the fact–finding team that visited Surat).

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th) Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 4

Fundamental flaws
Most secularists in Pakistan see General Musharraf’s government as the country’s last defence against its Talibanisation

In Pakistan, the Afghan policy has often been considered as one with few or no options, particularly be cause the Kandahar government of Mullah Umar was not always amenable to ‘advice’ from Islamabad. The Taliban are all Pakhtun linked by their ethnicity and Deobandi faith to the majority Pakhtuns living in the NWFP and Balochistan. The rapid spread of the Deobandi militias and seminaries in Punjab during the Afghan jehad against the Soviets, and the utilisation of Deobandi militias in Kashmir as a low–cost option, has made it even more difficult to effect changes in an increasingly untenable Afghan policy. Pakistan has had to sacrifice a great deal internally since the 1980s when it began its Saudi and American–funded jehad in Afghanistan.

In 1986, General Zia allowed the Afghan mujahideen to attack the Shiite Turi tribe in the Kurram Agency of its Tribal Areas abutting Afghanistan, and a large number of Turis suspected of non–cooperation with the mujahideen and of having an alliance with the government in Kabul were killed. In response to this action, a Shiite party, Tehreek–e–Nifaz–e–Fiqh–e–Jaafaria, was created with a Turi cleric, Ariful Hussaini, as its chief.

Hussaini was murdered in Peshawar in 1989, which the Shiite community thought was the handiwork of General Zia, who was in turn killed in an air crash within a fortnight of the assassination. This began a series of killings of Shiite Pakistanis and Iranian diplomats and officials in Pakistan. The Deobandi parties, especially Sipah–e–Sihaba, spread their influence to the Northern Areas where the Shiites and the Ismailis were made to submit to their puritanical aggression.

The rise of the sectarian sentiment in Pakistan, and the increased support of the Pakistani army to the anti–Shiite Taliban, stiffened the Afghan policy and subliminally made it a policy of national consensus. As the year 2000 began, General Musharraf was hard put to make changes in it now probably demanded by his own advisers. In any case, the Afghan policy remains marginally more flexible than the policy on Kashmir.

The fact that India is not willing to discuss Kashmir with Pakistan has removed for the time being the pressure to change it in light of the pro–India international opinion.

The civil war in Afghanistan and the jehad in Kashmir have gradually replaced the modernist–Islamic mujahideen fighters with more conservative ones: the Jamaat–e–Islami consensus among the Pakhtun fighters has veered to a Deobandi consensus. The dominant Hizb–e–lslami

of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a flag-bearer of modernist–lslamist thinking, lost favour with the Pakistani establishment. In its place, the Taliban of Mullah Umar, trained in the traditional Deobandi jurisprudence, enjoy growing popularity in Pakistan. In Kashmir, Jamaat–e–Islami’s Hizbul Mujahideen has been eclipsed by Harkat ul–Ansar (now Harkat ul–Mujahideen after being declared a terrorist organisation by Washington) of Deobandi persuasion.

In a parallel development, the Wahabi or Ahle Hadis warriors have gained strength. The most effective jehadi outfit based in Lahore is Lashkar–e–Toeba, functioning as a sub–ordinate branch of Dawat al-Irshad, an organisation with contacts in the Arab world which collects jehad funds from the expatriate Muslim communities in the West. The Lashkar has training camps in Afghanistan and ‘Azaad’ Kashmir and is arguably the most resourceful militia fighting in Kashmir. In Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden has strengthened the old Wahabi connection with the Deobandi Taliban rulers. Some American sources claim that the Taliban Amirul Momineen, Mullah Umar, has married Bin Laden’s daughter.

The third strand of the fundamentalist movement which joins the Wahabi–Deobandi combine in Afghanistan is the Naqshbandiya from Central Asia. Uzbek Islamist leaders Juma Namangani and Tahir Yuldashev have staged a fundamentalist revolt against Uzbekistan’s president Karimov and have sought shelter with the Taliban government after being accused by Karimov of trying to assassinate him in Tashkent. In Afghanistan, the Naqshbandiya faith was already strongly represented by Sibghat-ullah Mujadiddi, Afghanistan’s first president chosen by the mujahideen in Peshawar in 1989. Mujadiddi is in direct line of descent from Sheikh Ahmad of Sirhind, also called Mujaddid Aife Sani, who led a mystical movement of purification under Emperor Jehangir and was greatly admired by Islamic revivalist movements in India.

All three movements, the Deobandi, the Ahle Hadis–Wahabi, and Naqshbandi, are against bidaa (innovation) in Islamic rituals. They opposed the eclecticism that developed among Muslims under the Mughals and wished to separate local accretions from the pure Islamic faith. The founder of the Naqsh-bandiya order compelled the Mughal king Jehangir to persecute the Sikhs and the Muslim mystical orders which had developed a spiritual consensus with the Hindus.

The other preoccupation of the Naqshbandiya in India was opposition to the Shiite faith developing in the south of India and in the northern province of Oudh. Shaikh Ahmad had decreed that the Shiites were apostates and had to be put to the sword.

In Pakistan, only one Naqshbandi militant religious outfit called Tanzeem al–Ikhwan is active under the aggressive leadership of Maulana Akram Awan. Based on the mystical teachings of Shaikh Ahmad, the madrassa run by him in Chakwal has close links with the army. Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari, after his ouster from presidentship by Nawaz Sharif, paid secret visits to the seminary in Chakwal in affirmation of his close contacts with the Pakistani Army. In the investigations that followed the 1995 unsuccessful military coup in Pakistan, led by Islamist officers, Maulana Akram Awan’s name had cropped up in the list of the accused but was removed from the findings because of his close army connections. This gives evidence of the militarisation of the Central Asia mystical order.

The Pakhtun population of Balochistan is entirely Deobandi and traditionally anti–Shiite. The Pakistan army chief after Ayub Khan, Gen. Musa Khan, a Shiite Hazara, had himself buried in Iran through his will because of the Deobandi dominance in his province. In his book, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, John K. Cooley reveals that Mullah Umar and Osama Bin Laden first met in 1989 in a Deobandi mosque, Masjid Binuri, in Karachi, and, under the tutelage of Pakistan’s most powerful cleric, Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, presumably formed an alliance based on the traditional closeness of the Deobandis, who follow the Hanafi school, with the Wahabis, who accept only hadith under Abdul Wahab.

Thus the protection offered to Bin Laden by the Taliban, and the threats delivered by Pakistan’s Jamaat leaders to American citizens in support of Bin Laden, seem to spring from an historical interface between the two schools of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence).

The non–Pakhtun population of Pakistan is predominantly Barelvi, following the Hanafi fiqh of Ahmad Raza Khan Barelvi (1856–1931) who led a successful revolt in India against the stringent teachings of the Deobandi–Wahabi school of thought. The stronghold of Barelvism remains Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan in terms of population, but increasingly the state–controlled mosques are being given to Deobandi khateebs (sermon–readers). Because of the rise of the Deobandi militias, and their funding by the Arabs for their anti–Shiite and anti–Iran doctrine, the province is rapidly losing its Barelvi temperament. The Tablighi Jamaat which holds its annual congregation in Lahore has become a powerful influence favouring a Deobandi point of view. It gathers two million people in its annual congregation but it is important to note that over ninety per cent of its attendants are Pakhtun from Peshawar and the Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistan president, Muhammad Rafiq Tarar, is a Punjabi Deobandi.

The Afghan war pushed over three million Afghan refugees into Pakistan, which accommodated them in the Pakhtun–dominated areas of the NWFP and Balochistan. The Afghan youth, trained in the Deobandi seminaries in these two provinces for over ten years, later became the Taliban warriors of Mullah Umar. In their war with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban armies are constantly ‘replenished’ by fresh Taliban from Pakistan, many of them now Punjabi. According to Ahmed Rashid in Foreign Affairs (November–December 1999), over 80,000 Taliban have gone to Afghanistan to fight the Deobandi war against the Northern Alliance of Ahmad Shah Massoud. Recognition of the Taliban government by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan can be seen also in light of the ‘confluence’of historically anti–Shiite Deobandi–Wahabi spiritual coalition.

This has pitted a Shiite Iran against them. After the Naqshbandi addition to this equation, the Central Asian states too have joined the anti–Taliban reaction, with Russia at their back, and America inclining in favour of this formation because of Osama Bin Laden.

The fear of ‘Talibanisation’ in Pakistan springs from the circumstantial evidence of ‘stiffening’ in its ideology. Most of the 26,000 religious seminaries have undergone a sea change. For instance, in the case of the Barelvi organisation, Dawat-e-Islami, which holds an impressive 200,000–strong congregation in Multan in Punjab annually, the prohibition of human image is a change in the direction of Wahabi–Deobandi opposition to television and photographs.

In their obiter dicta, the judges of the lower and higher judiciary have inclined to a more fundamentalist view of Islam. The lower courts have been handing out death sentences to non–Muslims (including Ahmadis who were forcibly declared non–Muslims in 1974) under the Draconian Gustakh–e–Rasul or blasphemy law. Christians have been particularly targeted by Muslim clergy in the rural areas often led by the jehadi militias.

In 1997, a Christian settlement in Punjab, Shantinagar, was razed to the ground by militias using incendiary bombs normally a part of the arsenal of the mujahideen in Kashmir.

In 1998, Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad, Punjab, committed suicide in front of a court trying a Christian for blasphemy, and unleashed reaction from the European Union and the US, the latter passing a law mandating sanctions against states relying on blasphemy to violate human rights.

In Lahore, the high court handed down a verdict in 1996 against girls marrying without the permission of their fathers; it went against the Hanafi jurisprudence in force in Pakistan. Before the verdict was struck down by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a controversy developed on the issue in which the clerics generally upheld the more stringent Wahabi law applied by the high court.

Encouraged by the growing conservative outlook in the judiciary, Islamist scholars went to court in 1998 to undo some of the reforms initiated in 1961 in respect of Muslim Family Law. Petitioners, including some professors teaching Islamic courses in the universities, asked the court to strike down the provision of registering the nikaah (marriage deed) with the local councils and remove the limit placed on the marriageable age of girls.

The Supreme Court began hearing a 1992 government appeal against an old Shariat court verdict that bank interest be abolished in Pakistan. The Nawaz Sharif government, already having tabled its own 15th Amendment Shariat Bill under pressure from the fundamentalist forces in society, indicated its willingness to accept the ban on bank interest. The Supreme Court, judging from the highly publicised remarks of the judges in the course of hearings, was about to deliver a verdict against bank interest or riba before the 12 October coup took place. It shocked most Pakistanis when it finally delivered its verdict against bank interest on 23 December, knowing full well that it would create insurmountable difficulties for the Musharraf government. The judge who headed the Supreme Court bench had headed the Lahore high court when it handed down the verdict that women could not marry without the permission of their fathers. Encouraged by all this, the Council of Islamic Ideology declared that jails were against Islam and should be abolished. Leaders of the Deobandi parties have been calling for the introduction of a stringent Taliban–like system in Pakistan. On a trip to the Frontier Province in 1998, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif actually promised the enforcement of such a system, which he later denied.

The Talibanisation of the state dates back to the days when Pakistan began handling the Afghan jehad against the Soviets. That the army was the first party affected by this process is proved by the reverse indoctrination experienced by the officers of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). At least two former heads of ISI, Gen. Hamid Gul and Gen. Javed Nasir, today stand at the head of the Islamic movement in Pakistan and enjoy leverage over governments by reason of their contacts with the militias on the one hand and the army on the other. Both favour an Islamic revolution which will wean Pakistan away from its perceived cultural and political alignment with the West in general and the US in particular. They represent also the intense anti-Indian orientation of the army and the common people.

Of the two, General Gul is the more outspoken. His most recent sally against Musharraf was delivered after the government was seen to trim its political sails to become eligible for fresh assistance from the IMF and rescheduling of old loans with the London and Paris clubs of creditors. He warned in a newspaper statement that ‘this government too’ was treading the old pro-American path and was preparing to sign the CTBT and ‘embrace Vajpayee’. Another former ISI chief. General Durrani, although inclined to be secular in outlook, writes often to consolidate the old foreign policy paradigm favoured in the past by the armed forces. It is noteworthy that General Gul, General Durrani as well as Gen. Javed Nasir were removed as ISI chiefs under the shadow of suspicion. At the time of writing, the last chief of the ISI, General Ziauddin, along with two other former ISI officers, were in custody and may be subjected to court martial for anti–state activities.

The return to Pakistan of Maulana Masood Azhar after his release from India following the deal made with the hijackers in Kandahar brought to the fore the importance of the Binuri Masjid seminary in Karachi as Asia’s biggest centre of Deobandi–Taliban power. Maulana Azhar headed for Karachi after entering Pakistan and embarrassed Islamabad by making his usual anti–India and anti-US speeches at the mosque in Binuri Town. Washington, which was to judge whether India was correct in accusing Pakistan of being a terrorist state, lodged a strong protest against his outpourings.

The chief of the Binuri Town madrassa is Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, a Pakhtun Deobandi cleric who counts Afghanistan’s Mulla Umar among his disciples. He is said to be the most powerful man in Pakistan — he sits at the top of the Deobandi consensus — and is the author of a fatwa of death against Americans. After the Kandahar hijacking, jehad funds were collected all over Pakistan in his name. In Lahore, for instance, the Masjid-e-Shuhada, a government–controlled mosque given under a Deobandi khateeb (sermon–reader), collected donations under banners carrying the Mufti’s name as guarantor. The Binuri mosque madrassa was set up in 1947 by another Pakhtun cleric, Mufti Yusuf Binuri, who had inherited the ‘militant’ branch of Deoband’s Dar al–Ulum, while Peshawar remained the centre of the ‘monastic’ branch headed by Mufti Mahmood, father of the present Jamaat chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

The Deobandi cleric who led the funeral prayer of Jinnah in 1948 in Karachi, Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani, was also in the ‘monastic’ tradition, but some saw irony in the fact that a Shia–hating cleric performed the last rites of a leader whom his sister, Fatima Jinnah, was to declare Shiite in an affidavit to the Sindh high court a few days later. The fear of Talibanisation spread in Pakistan in 1997 after the Binuri-Taliban seminarians virtually took over the city of Karachi for a day during a protest. It was realised for the first time that the Taliban power was now centred in Karachi, heretofore seen as a business city with a ‘secular’ character, and not in the NWFP and Balochistan.

The biggest persuader in Pakistan is the economy. It can’t be imagined how the military rulers can blackball suggestions coming from their civilian Cabinet to realign Pakistan’s foreign policy behind a global consensus for peace in the region. India may be in a better position to defy this consensus because of its good economic indicators and the international goodwill it has reaped from the Kargil operation, but Pakistan has no options left. Musharraf and his colleagues may be struggling with the single–option direction being dictated by the country’s economy, but will most probably adjust to it as time passes, unless, of course, there is an interruption of rule.

Musharraf’s replacement can come in two ways. Finding the going too tough, Musharraf can curtail his rule and hold elections, or he can be replaced through a ‘revolution’ against his perceived ‘secular’ and pro–American posture. In the first instance, the new elected government will quickly fall into the old groove of a cautious approach to regional and world affairs without the ability to make the radical changes to stem Pakistan’s economic retrogression. It will not be able to ignore the agenda of the Pakistani army to keep the Kashmir pot boiling, nor will it be equal to the task of taking Pakistan out of international isolation in Afghanistan. Fundamentalism in Pakistan will intensify — and challenge the elected government on such measures as the complete Islamisation of society and the national economy. The Pakistani public, already disenchanted with politicians, will incline more and more in favour of the clergy and thus render the state vulnerable to a take–over by Islamists through a ‘revolution’.

The second mode of possible transition is a coup by another general on behalf of the Islamists. Fundamentalism in Pakistan is kept at bay by democracy: the electorate repeatedly votes in favour of the ‘secular’ parties, leaving the religious parties marginalised in parliament. For this reason, most religious leaders have been talking of ‘revolution’ instead of victory through elections. The ‘revolution’, if it happens, will bring the Sunni clergy to power, which will somehow have to paper over their doctrinal differences to be able to rule. The fundamentalist government will immediately adopt an aggressive posture towards India in particular and the US and the West in general, seeing a Jewish–Hindu collusion in their attitude towards Pakistan.

A fundamentalist regime will also turn on the economy with a determination to impose statist reforms, nationalising and centralising a number of sectors in order to realise the ideal of Islamic falahi (welfare) state. An economic collapse is sure to follow this policy since Pakistan does not enjoy the isolationist cushion of Iran’s oil wealth, and disorder will envelop the country, including a civil war–like situation in Sindh and Balochistan. It is this fear that compels most secularists in Pakistan to see Musharraf’s government as Pakistan’s last defence against its Talibanisation.

(Excerpted from the article Fundamental Flaws, contributed by the writer to the recently published collection of contemporary essays, On the Abyss: Pakistan After the Coup)

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2000, Anniversary Issue (7th) Year 8  No. 61, Cover Story 5