ISI’s Current Modus Operandi: State-sponsored Terrorism

In the early 1990s, when local recruits were not hard to motivate, the ISI relied on Pakistan trained terrorists for organizing ambushes of security forces convoys and patrols (using AK-47s and machine guns). For low-risk tasks such as the planting of anti-personnel land mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and to act as couriers of arms, ammunition and messages, locally trained terrorists were generally employed. The ISI had declared 1994 as the year of ‘barood’ (explosives). Though a fairly large measure of autonomy was given to the area and district commanders of terrorist outfits such as Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) and Harkat ul Ansar to conduct operations, overall control was retained by the ISI as it held the purse strings and was the single largest source of supplies of arms and ammunition. Orders to the various outfits used to be relayed over a clandestine radio station located in POK. However, the Kalashnikov culture that swept Kashmir Valley soon extracted a predictable toll. The power of the gun gradually corrupted the terrorists and they soon began to indulge in extortion, loot, rape and murder for petty jealousies.

The criminal activities of the terrorists soon alienated the Kashmiris. “Even political leaders aligned with terrorist groups have acknowledged that the abuses undermined the terrorists’ support in Kashmir.” At the same time, counter-insurgency operations by the security forces also gained momentum and a large number of terrorists were killed in action or apprehended. Kashmiri families soon became wary of sending their sons for what they realized was a futile JIHAD. The result was that, beginning around 1994-95, the ISI’s recruitment base in Kashmir Valley gradually dried up, though recruitment by force continued for some more time. The ISI then placed its reliance for further operations in Kashmir predominantly on foreign mercenaries. The ISI’s USP (unique selling point) was that Islam was in danger in India, in general, and in Kashmir, in particular. Mercenaries from POK, Pakistan, Afghanistan, several Gulf and West Asian countries including Saudi Arabia and Iraq and many African countries including Egypt, Libya and Algeria, were hired, trained and inducted into the Kashmir Valley. In addition, criminals undergoing long imprisonment sentences in Pakistani jails were also enticed into participating in the so-called Jihad. They were told that their sentences would be reprieved if they successfully completed a tenure of ISI ordained duty in J&K. Gradually, the presence of foreign mercenaries among the terrorists went up from 15 per cent in 1994 to 40 per cent in end-1998.

The modus operandi was to give the mercenaries some rudimentary military training and knowledge about using explosives, arm them with an AK-47 with four magazines of ammunition and give them a few thousand Rupees in Indian currency. At an opportune moment, they were infiltrated through the porous LoC with the support of the Pakistani Army. The PAK Army provided a safe passage through its own defences, guidance by hired Gujjars and Bakkarwals and covering fire from small arms, machine guns and even artillery, to draw away the attention of Indian troops on the LoC. The command and control set up was loose and flexible. The mercenaries were usually assigned to operate in specified areas and co-ordinated their operations with each other and the remnants of Kashmiri terrorists. Though the local population tolerated them as ‘guest terrorists’ the mercenaries did not get the promised support from the Kashmiri people, contrary to what they had been briefed by their masters in Pakistan. Food and shelter were hard to come by and the constant fight from the security forces was tiresome and most inconvenient. Also, they found that the security forces, particularly the Indian Army, were a tough force to reckon with and discovered that a terrorist’s life span in Kashmir was a maximum of four to six months before he was hounded out and killed or apprehended.

All this disillusioned the mercenaries very quickly. The story of extortion, loot, rape and murder was soon played out. While the people of Kashmir had initially actively participated in a struggle for azadi (independence) and had even encouraged their sons to join the movement, they were not willing to put up with the errant and domineering ways of the foreign mercenaries with whom they did not identify in any manner whatsoever. They soon began to give real-time intelligence—euphemistically called ‘actionable’ intelligence—about the whereabouts of the mercenaries to the security forces. From then onwards, the days of the foreign mercenary in Kashmir Valley were numbered. The tide finally turned around the summer months of 1996 when the ISI found that it was no longer profitable or even cost effective to persist with the induction of additional mercenaries in the Valley sector. At this stage, the ISI, in conjunction with the Pakistani Army, appears to have decided to shift the focus of its activities to the areas south of the Pir Panjal range. It was also apparently decided at this time to rely more on terror tactics to discredit the Indian administration, incite a communal and sectarian divide among the people and, by simultaneously raising the ante in Siachen glacier and along the LoC, project Kashmir as an international ‘flashpoint’.

In J&K, the ISI provides comprehensive support to five major terrorist groups. These include Hizbul Mujahideen (approximate strength 1,000 terrorists), Harkat ul Ansar (350), Lashkar-e-Toiba (300), Al Barq (200) and Al Jihad (150). In all, about 2,500 terrorists, mostly foreign mercenaries, belonging to these and other smaller terrorist groups are operating in J&K at present. The ISI spends about 60 to 80 crores every year for prosecuting Pakistan’s proxy war against India in J&K alone, that is 5 to 6.5 crores per month. It is quite obvious that Pakistan’s doddering economy can ill afford such expenditure. As the ISI’s links with the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and the agency’s active participation in the illegal arms trade flourishing in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province are well known, it can only be assumed that funding for its nefarious activities in India is being generated by the ISI itself, with the active connivance of the Pakistan government and the Army.

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