Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Changing Colours of ISI (Outlook as moderated by Capt Reet MP Singh, VrC (Retd))

In the latest issue of the Outlook magazine, there is a small piece (without the name of the author) about a dinner in Islamabad hosted by the ISI for a group of visiting Indian journalists.
With such a grim reputation, when your dinner host turns out to be a senior official of the ISI, as happened recently to the Indian media delegation that visited Pakistan, a faux pas or two was naturally par for the course. “Is it a think-tank?” asked one member of the Indian team innocently, after our host introduced himself as an ISI honcho. But once it was clear who was buying us dinner at the posh Islamabad restaurant, there was no stopping the barrage of questions.

“See, I have neither horns nor fangs,” the official smiled as way of assuring his Indian guests. But why was he there? Well, he informed the Indian media that he wanted to put across ISI’s point of view on the ongoing peace initiative. “We’ve realised that we cannot live in an environment of hostility with each other,” reasoned the official. For the rest of the dinner, he patiently answered questions on topics ranging from terrorism directed against India to the evolving situation in his country. Predictably, he didn’t take responsibility for much of the terrorist acts in India that originated from Pakistan, including 26/11. But he tried to convey that on the government’s attempt to have peace and normalise relations with India, the ISI was on the same page.[Outlook]

This should not surprise anyone, least of all this blogger, who had warned of this danger when these journalists were being taken on a guided tour of Pakistan (see this blogpost).

But what if this fear is unfounded? Or as Bharat Bhushan argues in his column in the same magazine, why is India refusing to respond to the change in Pakistan’s attitude. That is a very persuasive line to use, but how real is the change that we are witnessing. Can India afford to move merely on the words of someone like Mahmood Durrani, a regular participant in India-Pakistan Track-2 jamborees, who was sacked as the National Security Advisor by the current setup in Pakistan after Mumbai terror strikes in 2008?

Whether it be the relationship with US or the state of its economy or its perilous internal security situation or a lack of help from China, all observers, including those in India, can see that Pakistan is currently squeezed from all sides. This, counterintuitively, makes it even more difficult for India to trust Pakistan’s words: this peace-talk could be a posture to seek temporary relief till Pakistan army reverts to its perennial anti-India stance. The onus is thus upon Pakistan to prove its sincerity by taking suitable actions — closing terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strike to justice, to begin with — so that India can reciprocate.

Trust can’t be generated by words alone. It has to come from actions, and actions that can be verified (read Vikram Sood in the Mid-day to understand the point).

Many people will remember a similar crescendo of public opinion in India before the Shimla summit between Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the 1971 war. A large number of Indian commentators were then asking India, as victors of the war, to be large-hearted and trust Bhutto’s words. That large-heartedness towards a civilian ruler in Pakistan when its army was weak, many contended, would beget permanent peace between India and Pakistan. We all know how it actually played out.

Mr Bhutto went on to ensure that Pakistan gets an Islamic nuclear bomb even if Pakistanis ate grass. India got terror strikes in Kashmir, Punjab and at myriad places across the country: it is under the shadow of the nuclear bomb that jehadis have hurt India and Indians.

If we are so oblivious today to our own history from just four decades ago, we will pay a similar price that we have paid in the recent decades. ( I fully endorse this.  I dealt with the Pakistan Military in 1966 in J&K as a Brigade Major after Tashkent Agreement. They were sugar and honey till the areas captured by either side were handed back and after that we just could not contact them!!)

Getting back to the ISI, what do these nice gestures towards the Indian journalists by the ISI convey? The answer comes from this story in the Washington Post about ISI and the Osama bin Laden raid:
On Friday evening, over iced tea at a hotel cafe, two ISI officials offered a narrative that they say puts Pakistan in a better light. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

One noted that the ISI’s new head, Lt. Gen. Zaheer ul-Islam, is taking a “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of the much-maligned intelligence service.

This is it. The dinner table talk and the post-dinner gift of books at Islamabad are nothing but a part of the new ISI chief’s “proactive” approach to public relations to improve the international image of ISI.

Enjoy the meal, relish the conversation and read the book but do not get carried away. Remember. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (Great conclusion)

Comments by Lt Gen Harbhajan Singh

We Indians are sooo gullible and emotional. A few gestures/conciliatory words from Islamabad melt our hearts and dull our thinking. Must analyse, as done in the write up above, why at this time suddenly Pakistan establishment including ISI and Army Chief Kiani are coming out with offers of peace etc.

1. They are in a dark corner.
2. At this moment at least their benefactor America is not with them.
3. They have lost over 150 soldiers in an avalanche in Siachin.
4. Terrorism nurtured by them has struck Pakistan itself in a big way.
5. Considerable number of their Forces are fighting insurgency in Afpak borer area.
6. Above all they are in a very precarious economic and financial state (still look at the drama they have been playing to open trade with India!!)

Fortutiously for them along with their own woes, they see Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Manmohan Singh, the leader of the ruling coalition and the Prime Minister of India, are also cornered due to-

  •  large scale corruption cases against the government;
  • poor administration;
  • their Party the Congress losing elections in UP and elsewhere; and
  • India's economic situation on fast track to decline; etc etc
  So the duo who are leading the Party and the Government are so keen to get some brownie points to talk about in the Parliament and with the media.


And no doubt Sh. Manmohan Singh (both of us are of same age) is so keen to visit his native village near Jehlum, as a VVIP before he demits office, but not at the cost of the Nation please. (I have two native villages too in Pakistan-older one between Narowal-Zafarwal and the comparatively newer one, still over 110 years old just four miles from Sargodha. Also my school on Ravi Road, Lahore, just opposite the Government College). But I have no desire to visit them as I have not forgotten the trauma of being shunted out from there in 1947 by those who were responsible for the division of the country.

I am all for amity between India and Pakistan. We speak same language, same music, same food and even similar customs. But it has to be based on solid long term measures and not for Pakistan to get out of tight situation and dupe us later.

Sooner or later the Islamists/hard liners are going to be in power in Pakistan and our planning has to keep in mind what we perceive how they will view any agreements arrived at now and concessions given by India.

My Salams to people of Pakistan. Hum aap ke saath aman mein rehna chahte hain. Magar aap ke hukmaran, Army, ISI aur kattar Mussalmeen tabqa yeh nahin chahta. Hum baar baar dhoka nahin khana chahte.

Harbhajan Singh
Lt Gen

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