India has long dreamed of becoming a regional hegemon in South Asia. With an aim to achieve preponderance, New Delhi has employed both soft and hard power in order to bring all the peripheral South Asian states under its military and economic tentacles. For India, economically- and militarily-rising Pakistan continues to pose a significant threat to its ambitions. “India has always tried to maintain its hegemony in the South Asian region and Pakistan has rejected this while effectively protecting its interests”, said Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs.
To overwhelm Pakistan, India launched an aggressive ‘Cold Start’ doctrine, a disruptive water war and the diplomatic offensive to label Pakistan as a state that sponsors terrorism, but all its efforts have dismally fallen through. After all these anti-Pakistan offensives have failed to yield any of the predetermined results, the Modi government has now tasked its hawkish National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, with a mission to weaken Pakistan internally through a multi-pronged proxy war.
Ajit Doval, along with the former Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar who recently became the Chief Minister of Goa, formulated the infamous ‘Doval doctrine’ This doctrine is a disruptive intelligence warfare primarily designed to foment low-intensity insurgency in Balochistan, ethnicity in Sindh, militancy in southern Punjab and terrorism in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Indian intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been assigned the task of executing the main flanks of the Doval doctrine. In November 2016, Pakistan’s Foreign Office disclosed that: “[A] number of Indian diplomats and staff belonging to Indian intelligence agencies RAW and IB have been found involved in coordinating terrorist and subversive activities in Pakistan under the garb of diplomatic assignments”.
Under Doval’s directions, RAW’s newly-appointed head Anil Dhasmana has premised the agency’s operational strategy on the ancient adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Since the launch of the Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the Indian spy agency has unremittingly provided financial resources and sophisticated weaponry to terrorists, militants and insurgents based in Afghanistan’s provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar, Nuristan and Badakhshan, to orchestrate terrorism in Pakistan. Kulbhushan Yadav, the detained operative of RAW in Pakistan, revealed in his six-minute video: “RAW is involved in some activities related to the Baloch liberation movement within Pakistan and the region around it.”
Indian spymasters, especially Doval and Parrikar, are fully cognizant of the fact that RAW cannot optimally maximise its malicious operations against Pakistan without the intelligence support from National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan intelligence agency. Since the NDS has its own axe to grind, it has literally provided RAW with a carte blanche to use some strife-torn areas in eastern Afghanistan, as a springboard to sponsor and monitor terrorist and militant networks inside Pakistan. “The Karzai administration open-heartedly offered India an opportunity to establish its terror recruitment camps against its traditional enemy, Pakistan. This was a golden opportunity where India trained its fighters and sent them to Pakistan to carry out suicide attacks,’ wrote Musa Khan Jalazai, the author of ‘Fixing the EU Intelligence Crisis’.
One can also recall the remarks of ex-American Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, when he, during a discussion on Afghanistan, said, “India for some time has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.”
Besides this, the NDS has greatly facilitated RAW’s secret infiltration into disillusioned Afghan expats nestled in Pakistan. These disgruntled refugees are indoctrinated and then used to launch terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. In May 2016, Balochistan’s Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti said that Pakistan’s security and intelligence agencies have arrested six NDS operatives involved in terrorist activities. He added that the suspects, most of them Afghan refugees, were planted by the Afghanistan’s NDS and India’s RAW, and they confessed to killing more than 40 Pakistanis in various acts of terrorism.
So, some vexing questions can be raised on the RAW-NDS nexus: why is the NDS lending a hand to its Indian counterpart to create insecurity and instability in Pakistan? What are the main objectives behind RAW’s increasing flirtation with terrorist, insurgent and militant outfits in the region?
With meager financial resources coupled with military incompetence, cash-strapped Afghanistan is unable to make the NDS an effective intelligence agency. Due to lack of professionalism and scant monetary resources, the NDS has fared badly in terms of supplying timely intelligence to the underperforming Afghan National Army (ANA). This has prevented the Afghan law-enforcement agencies from conducting intelligence-based operations against the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Afghan Taliban — all are based in Afghanistan. Therefore, the NDS supports RAW against Pakistan only to receive financial and military assistance from New Delhi and to malign Pakistan.
Most of the Afghan political elite haven’t yet recognised the Durand Line as an international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. They still claim some Pashtun-dominated northwestern areas of Pakistan as an integral part of their country. Reacting to the merger of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has lately said: “The government of Pakistan has no legal authority to dictate terms on the Durand Line. I want to remind to the Pakistani government that Afghanistan hasn’t and will not recognise the Durand Line.” But, Islamabad has repeatedly rejected this claim with vehemence. To achieve this objective, the NDS has joined hands with RAW to arouse nationalist and ethnic sentiments in Pakistan’s marginalised Pashtun population.
Afghanistan has been incessantly blaming Pakistan that it secretly shelters the Haqqani Network and the Quetta Shura of the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan leadership often points an accusing finger toward Pakistan’s policy of strategic depth aimed at sponsoring some ‘vetted Afghan Taliban’ in order to counter the rising Indian economic and military clout in war-battered Afghanistan. In retaliation, the NDS has closely partnered with RAW to furtively harbour hardcore Pakistani terrorists, insurgent and militants in ungoverned eastern Afghanistan.
As far as Indian designs behind the regional spy warfare are concerned, the Modi government has assigned RAW with the destructive task to scuttle the timely completion of the grand project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). India’s intentions regarding the CPEC became crystal clear from the statement of Indian premier Narendra Modi in China where he vehemently bashed CPEC and termed the project as ‘unacceptable’ to India.
For subverting the CPEC, a special cell has been established at the RAW’s headquarters in New Delhi and has been entrusted with the task to sponsor terrorism and fuel insurgency in Pakistan that would slow down the progressive works on the grand economic corridor. Kulbushan Yadav openly disclosed that the main clandestine objective of his mission was to fully revive the separatist insurgency in Balochistan and disrupt the CPEC. According to him, the spy network of RAW against Pakistan stretches from southeastern Iran to eastern Afghanistan. The detained spy also revealed that he had set up a small business in Iran’s southeastern port of Chabahar in 2003 so that he may avoid detection and detention.
Why is India bent on subverting CPEC? Indian military strategists are highly apprehensive that emerging China will rely on the Gwadar Port to increase its naval presence in the Arabian Sea and near to the geo-strategically important Strait of Hormuz. They nurse the grudge that China will bank on its burgeoning trade with the oil-rich Middle East through the economic corridor to expand its military prowess. No doubt, such naval presence will greatly help China to protect its main sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in the region, especially from the Indo-US bloc.
Apart from this, India unnecessarily deems CPEC and the Gwadar Port largely competitive and obstructive to the Indian-funded Chabahar Port. New Delhi has invested millions of dollars in the construction and upgradation of the Chabahar Port so as to augment its trade with Iran and Afghanistan, as well as the Central Asia Republics (CARs). India apprehends that the Gwadar Port and future expansion of CPEC will overshadow the Chabahar Port, thus immensely helping Pakistan and China to dominate the Iranian, Afghan and Central Asian markets.
The RAW-NDS duo is also out to create instability in Pakistan so that West remains increasingly worried about Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Since the US shares this objective with India, the CIA may also be working along with RAW to exacerbate Pakistan’s already fragile security situation. In this hybrid warfare, India has extensively lobbied in some Western capitals to stop them from supporting Pakistan on the nuclear front.
It is highly laudable that the security agencies of Pakistan have, so far, successfully countered the offensive by the RAW-NDS nexus against the country. After dismantling the spy network under Kulbhushan Yadav in 2016, the ISI and the Army have continued to conduct operations against the presence of RAW’s operatives in the country.
In this Indo-Afghan intelligence warfare against Pakistan, it is imperative that we try to break the nexus between the NDS and RAW. In this regard, the government should assure Afghanistan of stringent measures against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Pakistan. To complement this step, Islamabad ought to reset its economic and political relations with Kabul; the broader economic connection between the two countries will goad Afghanistan into breaking the NDS-RAW nexus.
Pakistan cannot completely neutralise the threat of RAW without enhancing intelligence coordination with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). Some of RAW’s operatives are believed to be working at the Chabahar Port as Indian engineers and servicemen. If both Pakistan and China include Iran in CPEC, Tehran would not allow RAW’s agents to use its soil against Pakistan.
Presumably, the most effective means to counter the ongoing Indian proxy war against Pakistan is to build the capacity of the civil and military intelligence agencies so that they respond promptly to security challenges faced by the country.