Indian Terrorism is a Reality
Few people know that India introduced state-sponsored terrorism and non-state conflict, also known as war by proxy, to South Asia, much in the same way that New Delhi introduced nuclear weapons to the region.
These measures were India’s disproportionate responses to the conflict over Kashmir with Pakistan. That conflict was first taken to the United Nations Security Council by India in 1948, a move that Pakistan endorsed as a civilized way to resolve the dispute. India then prolonged the conflict without resolution by deploying delay tactics, allowing the dispute to fester into a major human rights tragedy and a festering crisis.
If that was not enough, India expanded the conflict. Islamabad and New Delhi enjoyed almost normal relations in the early years while Kashmir conflict was handled through bilateral and international diplomacy. But then New Delhi made a conscious decision to escalate and expand the conflict by introducing non-state actors, proxy wars, nuclear weapons, and the unprovoked invasion of Pakistan across international borders in 1971 to seize and break territory.
The 1971 unilateral and unprovoked invasion was an act of blunt aggression, preplanned and designed to deprive Pakistan of territory. In this way, the limited Pak-India conflict over Kashmir was expanded into an all-out existential conflict. The blame for this rests squarely with India, a large country that faced no real threat from a smaller neighbor but nonetheless chose to use a border dispute to settle scores over issues that go deeper into history, covering grievances linked to imperial Muslim rule in Central and South Asia, including India, which resulted in modern-day Pakistan.
The Latest Dossier
On November 14, 2020, Pakistan unveiled its latest dossier, based on intelligence, that listed evidence establishing how New Delhi used terrorism to destabilize Pakistan. The dossier’s content was jointly presented before national and international media by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Major General Babar Iftikhar, HI (M), the Director-General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the media arm of Pakistan Armed Forces.
What the two senior officials revealed was an impeccably prepared dossier that methodically unlocked the role of Indian diplomats, military officers, and intelligence agents in organizing and bankrolling terror incidents inside Pakistan. The details included names, dates, telephone numbers, and colorful descriptions of meetings between Indian operatives and their assets inside Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This was not the first Pakistani dossier of its kind, but it was the most elaborate. Pakistani and international media has covered the content of the dossier in detail. This article expands on that coverage by adding context, including interesting nuggets that provide a peek into the long-running spy feuds between Pakistan and India.
Three Indian Terrorists
In 1973, Pakistani intelligence arrested a man named Ibrahim on the Peshawar-Rawalpindi highway. He was Kashmir Singh, a former Indian Army soldier turned operative for Indian intelligence.
Kashmir Singh served in the Indian Army between 1962 and 1966. According to Wikipedia entries quoting Indian media reports and other reliable sources, this is how he was caught:
“In 1973, he was arrested on the 22nd Milestone on the Peshawar-Rawalpindi road by Pakistani intelligence officers […] At the time of his arrest, his family included his wife, Paramjit Kaur, and three children under the age of 10. Subsequently in the same year, he was sentenced to death by a Pakistan Army court. This verdict was upheld by a civil court between 1976 and 1977 and a mercy petition followed this, but to no avail. After being sentenced to an indefinite jail term, he said that he ‘was tortured third degree for the first few months by the authorities’ as they pressurized him to confess to being an Indian spy. Singh was lodged in seven different jails in Pakistan and was kept in solitary confinement and remained chained for 17 long years.”
In early 2008 a Pakistani human rights minister pleaded with then President Pervez Musharraf to release Kashmir Singh because the Indian spy had spent 35 years in jail. A debate ensued where many commentators argued Singh was not a spy. Musharraf pardoned Singh and he crossed Pakistan’s eastern border into India on March 4, 2008.
But to the embarrassment of Indian government and many in Pakistan, Kashmir Singh told the Indian media contingent that awaited him on this side that he was a spy, that he served his country, and that India abandoned him.
Surjeet Singh is another Indian spy. He was arrested in Pakistan in 1982 and, like Sarabjit Singh, confessed to working with Indian intelligence and spying on Pakistan. But he was not linked to bombings inside Pakistan. If he was, the charges were not proven in a court of law. So, in 1989, late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto took up his case and asked then President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to commute his death sentence, handed down to him by a military court. Bhutto was trying to improve relations with India and thought releasing a spy working for Indian government would be a goodwill gesture. But the matter could not be resolved.
Surjeet was released in June 2012. As soon as Surjeet Singh landed in India, he confessed in front of the full glare of national media that he was a RAW spy in Pakistan.1 Surjeet said he sent vital information from Pakistan to India but accused the Indian government and its spy agency of abandoning him.2
Surjeet said he was recruited by a Border Security Force (BSF) officer to sneak into Pakistan for espionage. Most importantly, Surjeet told the Indian media that Sarabjit Singh was a “terrorist” whom India sent to kill Pakistani civilians.
BBC interviewed Surjeet Singh in India in 2012. To understand how India sent terrorists to Pakistan, see BBC’s report titled ‘Meeting India’s Angry Spy Surjeet Singh’.3
Sarabjit Singh is the third high-profile Indian intelligence operative in this story of decades-long Indian terrorism in Pakistan. He also went by the names Jaljit Singh and Manjit Singh. If the names sound confusing and similar, it is no accident. Indian officials made it a point to send spies to Pakistan from the Indian Sikh community, which is known to have a soft corner for Pakistan. It was New Delhi’s way of teasing Pakistan.
Sarabjit Singh was arrested in Lahore for involvement in a series of bombings in markets and public places in Faisalabad, Lahore, and Multan in 1990. Unlike Kashmir Singh and Surjeet Singh, who were spies, Sarabjit was a terror-agent, a bomb-maker with a mission to kill, an operative of the Indian government sent to kill Pakistani civilians, spread panic and instability in Pakistani cities, recruit and organize local cells for Indian spy agency, and train recruits to execute bombings in cities.
Just like Indian saboteurs and spies before him, Sarabjit maintained he was innocent after his arrest, that he was a simple farmer, and that he strayed into Pakistan. [To have an alibi in case he was caught, the Indian spy service RAW picked and trained its spies and saboteurs from natives of Indian villages near the Pakistani border, so the story matches. But unfortunately for the Indian government, several Indian spies arrested during that period admitted to affiliation with RAW, thereby rendering this alibi useless.
Evidence left little wiggle room for Sarabjit and he was sent to the death row. There was a small controversy in June 2012 when Islamabad pardoned a convicted Indian spy. The media wrongly mentioned Sarabjit’s name. The correct name was Surjeet.
Sarabjit’s mercy petition was rejected by former President Pervez Musharraf.
How Pakistan Treated Sarabjit
Pakistani authorities accorded terrorist-saboteur Sarabjit Singh humane treatment, possibly better than anything that India offers Pakistani and Kashmiri inmates in Indian prisons, according to a well-established record. The Indian was allowed to meet his Pakistani lawyers. India was given consular access, and his family was permitted to meet him and communicate with him under supervision. He was given security, he exercised in jail, and received overall good treatment. Never once during his 22-year jailtime did he complain verbally or in writing of bad treatment. This was a generous Pakistani treatment considering he was convicted for killing dozens of innocent Pakistani bystanders and shoppers in busy markets. Sarabjit died because of wounds sustained during a brawl with two Pakistani death row inmates. Expectedly, the Indian media accused Pakistani spy agency, the ISI, of killing him. But these accusations were dismissed by some Indian journalists and commentators as incredulous, and the subject of Pakistan’s good treatment to Indian spies came up in Indian debates after this episode.
India’s own record of treating Pakistani and Kashmiri prisoners is dismal. On February 9, 2013, Indian authorities executed Kashmiri freedom activist Afzal Guru. The execution was done secretly, he was not allowed a farewell meeting with his family, who learned of the execution from the media, Guru’s body was strangely buried inside the prison compound, and the family was refused access to the grave and to the body. All of this raised legitimate questions about the possibility that Indian security officials killed Guru during interrogation and hurriedly buried his body inside the jail to hide marks of torture. The family never saw the body.
In 2005, India released a Pakistani prisoner of war, soldier Maqbool Hussain. He was kept in jail for 40 years. When he was released, he had no tongue. It was pulled out during one of the torture sessions by Indian interrogators. Pakistani official records indicate receiving many Pakistani prisoners from Indian jails who were mentally or physically damaged for life.
The Behavior of Indian Government
The Indian government comes across as a villain in terms of how it treated the spies it sent to Pakistan. In the words of those spies released by Pakistan, New Delhi is guilty of sending agents to Pakistan and then abandoning them once caught. And even when Islamabad graciously pardoned some of the Indian spies, New Delhi could have used the opportunity to own up to its mistakes, mend fences with Pakistan, and pay compensation to the families of the young spies whose lives and the lives of their families and children it ruined. This is what Indian spy Surjeet Singh demanded in front of the Indian media as soon as he crossed into India after a Pakistani pardon. Even in the case of Sarabjit Singh, the Indian government could have provided background briefings to the media and the Indian public about the exemplary Pakistani treatment given to Indian convicts accused of spying and terrorism, how Pakistan released two of them despite death convictions. Instead, the Indian government chose to help create an anti-Pakistan hysteria in India and portrayed the accidental death of spy-saboteur Sarabjit Singh as premeditated murder.
The Bottom Line on Indian Terrorism
After starting proxy wars in the region in 1950, and after the unprovoked invasion of Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, the unprovoked nuclear detonations of 1974, and the wave of Indian terrorism in Pakistani cities in the 1980s and 1990s, India returned to Afghanistan in 2002 to use Afghan soil against Pakistan, much like it did in 1950. It was full circle for India.
Instead of Soviet Union, India teamed up this time with local warlords and other allied regional actors. Together they did several things. The first order of business was to revive the BLA, or the Balochistan Liberation Army, created during the 1960s and 1970s by India and the Soviet Union. The BLA was used unsuccessfully between 2002 and 2012 to try to incite a civil war inside Balochistan. Moreover, the Indians established links to terror groups collectively known as TTP, or the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which specialized in killing Pakistani civilians and soldiers. The TTP was kept alive through funding and training in Afghanistan despite coming close several times to being eliminated by Pakistani military. The TTP was being used in a war of attrition against Pakistani military and the Pakistani state. Chief of Army Staff at that time, General Ashfaq Kayani, bluntly accused unnamed “enemies in the region” of using TTP against Pakistan, in his keynote address at a Martyrs’ Day ceremony on April 30, 2013.
Indian acts of terrorism are also well documented in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
This history of Indian export of terrorism sharply contrasts with the carefully cultivated image of a responsible state. India is a source of instability, threat, and terrorism for its neighbors. As the events of 1971 indicated, no neighbor of India is safe from a possible, unprovoked, Indian invasion or military action if circumstances allow.
The writer is a journalist who covers national security.
He tweets at: @_AhmedQuraishi
1. Nizami, Sunara. I went to Pakistan to spy, confesses Sarjeet Singh. The Express Tribune. June 28, 2012, https://tribune.com.pk/story/400493/homecoming-surjeet-singh-taken-to-wagah-border
2. Gupta, Anirudh. Surjeet: I sent back vital Pak info, but got nothing in return. The Tribune India. June 30, 2012, https://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20120630/main4.htm
3. Meeting India's angry spy Surjeet Singh. BBC. July 4, 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-18687924
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