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The ISI's Supervisory Role in Assam

Dr. M. Amarjeet Singh is Assistant Professor of Conflict Resolution, School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Indian Institute of Science Campus, Banglore, India. Prior to this he was Research Assistant at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile.
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  • November 07, 2006

    Apart from aiding and abetting terrorism in Kashmir, Pakistan's intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), has also been fully engaged in building terror infrastructures in the rest of India, including in the Northeast, which has long been infested with multiple insurgencies. This attempt to fish in the troubled waters of the Northeast poses a formidable challenge to India's integrity and security.

    Over the past several years, the Indian security establishment has gathered sufficient evidence to show that the ISI - with an active network in Bangladesh - has been engaged in sponsoring violence and unrest in this part of India, by way of supplying sophisticated weaponry, tactical advice and imparting guerrilla training to several militant groups in the region.

    The sprawling Pakistani High Commission in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka has emerged as the "nerve centre" of ISI activities, especially with regards to networking and co-ordinating with trusted agents and linkmen for the purported objective of building a terror network in India's Eastern sector. In doing so, it had been assisting and also sponsoring terror camps in Bangladesh where Indian militants obtain extensive guerrilla training. During the 7th Indo-Bangladesh Home Secretary-level talks held in Dhaka in August 2006, the Union Home Secretary V. K. Duggal pointed to the existence of 172 camps belonging to Indian militant groups and detailed how the militants were supported by Bangladesh-based fundamentalist outfits like Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami (HuJI) sponsored by the ISI, with money coming from Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia.

    In Assam, the growing separatist movement coupled with its demographic profile, which includes among others a large number of foreign nationals, has created a vulnerable constituency for exploitation by the intelligence agencies of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Besides assisting major militant groups like the United Liberation front of Asom (ULFA), the ISI's nexus with several home grown Islamic fundamentalist outfits like the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA) have also come to light in the recent past.

    The ISI's activities in Assam, according to the statement of the then Assam Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, made on the floor of the Assam Legislative Assembly in Dispur on April 6, 2000 includes:

    • Promoting indiscriminate violence in the state by providing active support to the local militant outfits.
    • Creating new militant outfits along ethnic and communal lines by instigating ethnic and religious groups.
    • Supply of explosives and sophisticated arms to various militant groups.
    • Causing sabotage of oil pipelines and other installations, communication lines, railways and roads.
    • Promoting fundamentalism and militancy among local Muslim youth by instigating them in the name of 'jihad'.
    • Promoting communal tension between Hindu and Muslim citizens by way of false and inflammatory propaganda.

    Available evidence suggests that the ULFA-ISI nexus began way back in the early 1990s, since when the agency has been imparting specialised arms training to ULFA cadres. On July 25, 2006, the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, S. Raghupathy, confirmed on the floor of the Lok Sabha that the ULFA has links with the ISI. Earlier on June 15, 2006, the Assam Police had claimed that ULFA cadres acquired training in explosives in Pakistan under foreign experts. Disclosing this, the Assam Inspector General of Police (Special Branch) Khagen Sharma said that over a dozen such trained cadres have sneaked into the State. He asserted: "The ULFA sent six boys to Pakistan in 2002 and 16 more in 2004, and all received training in explosives and bombs. They are trained in the use of RDX, TNT, PETN and other dangerous explosives by some foreign agencies which also supply them these materials." On May 15, 2005, a team of Assam and Meghalaya Police arrested an alleged ISI agent, Mohammed Hasifuddin, from an unspecified place along the Assam-Meghalaya border and confiscated over 400 gelatine sticks from him. He was alleged to have supplied explosives to ULFA for the Independence Day bomb blast at Dhemaji town in Assam on August 15, 2004 which killed altogether 17 persons, including 16 school children. The ISI, according to the Assam Police, had procured several different passports for Paresh Barua, the Commander-in-Chief of ULFA, in different names.

    In association with Bangladesh's Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the ISI has been recruiting unemployed youth from Assam and training them for 'jihad' in Bangladesh. This was recently confirmed by the Inspector General of the Border Security Force, J. P. Sinha, when he told the Indian Express on September 1, 2006 that the ISI and the DGFI "are recruiting youths from Assam and training them for jihad in Bangladesh. After the completion of training they are sent back to Assam for fomenting trouble in the north-eastern region." The earlier arrest of a MULTA militant, Nasiruddin Haq, by the Border Security Force from Gitaldah in Coochbehar district of West Bengal in October 2004, had revealed the fact that the ISI was funding MULTA to purchase arms. He further confessed that at least 300 MULTA cadres had already trained in Bangladesh since 1996 and were working in Assam for the outfit.

    Above all, the ISI is also responsible for pumping huge sums of counterfeit currency to subvert the Indian economy. Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Balochistan province, has, of late, emerged as a major centre for printing and circulating fake Indian currency notes (FICNs). Highlighting the ISI's role in this racket, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) note reportedly sent to the finance ministry stated that, "FICNs are pushed into India by ISI through all possible channels using smugglers, underworld gangs, terrorists and general air/rail passengers." The note further said that the fake currency notes were sent to India through 'carrier' air passengers who were paid between Rs. 5,000 and 10,000 for carrying a consignment from Dubai and other Gulf countries. Highlighting this phenomenon, the September 18, 2006 issue of the Times of India noted that, according to unspecified intelligence sources, Barak Valley and Karimganj in Assam and Kailasahar and Dharam Nagar in Tripura have become the new outposts where contraband is dumped.

    An investigation report of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Department of the Assam Government had revealed that persons suspected to be linked to the ISI have been appointed in the State Social Welfare Department. The report, which was reportedly completed in 2005, was made public by the opposition Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on September 6, 2006. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Bureau and the Assam Police busted a network of ISI operatives who were allegedly passing on highly classified defence documents to officials of the Pakistan Embassy in New Delhi. This follows the arrest of a retired Indian Air Force sergeant Mohammad Hanif from a hotel in Guwahati along with three others on July 10, 2005. Mohammad Hanif had allegedly procured these documents through his son, Mohammad Javed, who worked as a Lance Naik in the Army's 4 Corps in Tezpur.

    Of late, the ISI has been making all out efforts to employ the services of several Kashmir- and Bangladesh-based Islamist groups in the Northeast. Security experts have warned that the ISI's long-term goal in Assam is to boost the activities of Islamic groups. Harkat-ul-Mujahideen has reportedly recruited and dispatched a number of youths from Assam for training in Pakistan. The Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has reportedly formed a suicide squad to target Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, reportedly for his stand against illegal infiltration from across the border and for taking measures against the proliferation of fundamentalist outfits. There is a distinct possibility that the JMB would over time begin to co-operate and co-ordinate its actions with local Islamist militant groups in Assam.

    Much more alarmingly, there have been media reports of the ISI attempting to spread HIV/AIDS among Indian security forces personnel deployed along the border areas, in liaison with HIV infected women in these areas. However, such reports have not been confirmed officially as yet.

    As the Pakistani ISI expands and consolidates its influence, the threat it brings to India's national security are real and grave. Its effort to rope in the services of foreign based terror groups in this part of the country will prove to be too costly an affair for India in general and the northeast region in particular.