With the possibility of a second war looming between India and Pakistan, the second Panthic committee consisting of Sikh separatists began to meet at the contrivance of Pakistan’s feared Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. After playing a decisive role in undermining democracy in Pakistan and ousting Benazir Bhutto, ISI again established links with Sikh insurgents seeking to create an independent homeland for themselves in India called Khalistan. To achieve this goal, the Sikh movement would launch terrorist attacks against India with the full support of Pakistan’s intelligence service.
Learning of this the Prime Minister of India dispatched an officer of the Intelligence Bureau, India’s internal intelligence service. Maloy Krishna Dhar was a senior Intelligence Bureau (IB) officer by this time, his mission made clear by the Prime Minister’s office: “it involved cleverly planned intelligence operations to drive wedges between the feuding terrorist leaders and groups” (Dhar, 384). The groups belonging to the second Panthic Committee were not monolithic, a weakness that Dhar intended to take advantage of.
Utilizing war material and training diverted or left over from the CIA’s anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan, the ISI funneled weapons to the Sikh rebels and taught them how to construct Improvised Explosive Devices. Operations against Sikh separatists like Blue Star and Black Thunder had helped to unite the groups against the Indian government, something Pakistan took full advantage of so it was only natural that the ISI would attempt to sabotage the government’s peace talks with the Panthic Committee in 1990.
Using a Sikh journalist as a cut out, Dhar approached two important leaders in the Panthic Committee who belonged to a group called the Babbar Khalsa. Dhar recalls of the experience that, “a bridgehead was established after a sizable goodwill amount was passed on to a cut out,” (Dhar, 387). A woman serving in India’s parliament also helped make for Dhar’s soft landing as he established unofficial back channel communications with the Panthic Committee.
The operation was successful, resulting in one of the more troubling members of the Panthic Committee to be expelled from the group, thus paving the way for negotiations with the Indian government. However, it did not come without a price. The Sikh journalist who had helped Dhar create a schism in the Panthic Committee was assassinated by a hit squad. Dhar relates that he was later told by a, “very reliable source in the IB that an organizational faction opposed to me (personally and professionally) had leaked out the identity of the journalist friend” (Dhar, 387).
The IB officer successfully ran the most professional of intelligence operations. Rather than shoot a terrorist in the back of the head or steal documents out of a safe, Dhar insinuated his hidden influence inside the Panthic Committee and created a fissure, the fissure opening up an opportunity for peace negotiations between the Sikh separatists and the government. That fissure also had the result of taking the wind out of the ISI’s sails and reducing Pakistan’s meddling in India’s affairs.
However, the fallout of this operation, the exposure of the Intelligence Bureau’s sources and methods, also demonstrates the corruption deep within India’s intelligence services. In the past there have been instances of intelligence officials intentionally sabotaging Indian operations that target insurgent groups because it would dry up their conduit of illicit funds. With little accountability, India’s intelligence services are often used for political ends by whichever party happens to be in power at that time. Individual intelligence officers have often been known to accept bribes, and nepotism runs rampant in an organizational culture where young officers are looked after by “god fathers.”
With India’s war on terror escalating after the devastating attacks on Mumbai, and Intelligence Bureau officers being charged with extra-judicial killings, it is now a good time in history to take a look back on the structure and history of India’s intelligence services, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, to see what deficiencies exist and what reforms the Indian government can implement in the future.
Coming next: India’s Secret Wars Part 2: Intelligence Bureau (IB)
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(Featured Image Courtesy: Indian Express)
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