‘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



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