The man in the dust-brown Pakul cap dragged the corpses of the Pakistan Army’s slain soldiers off a blue pickup truck one by one, each missing the head severed by an executioner’s axe, a video camera following the trails of blood staining the road with a curious, pornographic relish. The murdered soldiers’ clothes were carefully rearranged their clothes, covering up unseemly displays of flesh. “The Holy Quran,” the man who forged the killers into an army had said in a 2007 interview, “extols Muslims on 480 occasions to wage jihad”.
“Only jihad can bring peace to the world”.
“We will continue our struggle until foreign troops are thrown out [of Afghanistan and Pakistan]”, the jihadist leader Baitullah Mehsud went on. “Then we will attack them in the United States and Britain until they either accept Islam or agree to pay jazia [a tax on non-Muslims living in an Islamic State]”.
Following the savage 26 November, 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, Lieutenant-General Shuja Pasha, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate had briefed a small Pakistani group off the record. Fazal Hayat, Baitullah Mehsud’s mentor and patron, he insisted, was a “true patriot”.
Now, there’s a twist to the story: This weekend, Islamabad has released a dossier claiming India is funding the very Tehreek-e-Taliban jihadists it nurtured and grew. The dossier, a precis of which was released to media, is full of comical errors — but this low farce is part of a lethal script, in which India is merely pretext.
Like last week’s left-over kebabs, stored in the back of the fridge and hastily microwaved to meet late-night hunger crisis, there’s no small hint of mould in the dossier. Errors of fact have bloomed across the text: There has never been a chief of the Research and Analysis Wing named Ajit Chetorvedi; the reference is, likely, to Ashok Chaturvedi, who served from 2007-2009. Former spy chief Vikram Sood’s surname is misspelt, as is that of Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who reopened India’s embassy in Kabul after 9/11, and went on to serve as ambassador from 2010 to 2013.
The dossier was, two separate sources familiar with the Pakistan government said, prepared under the supervision of Moeed Yusuf, the Boston-educated academic who is now Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on National Security. It’s evident his challenges will include introducing his staff to Google.
Errors in the dossier, though, go far beyond spelling. There is a reference to a General Ranjeet Senha visiting a camp for Baluch insurgents with Mukhopadhaya; no general by that name, or similar ones like Sinha served in the Indian Army during that time. There’s no record of a Colonel Rajesh, alleged to be liaising with jihadists, being stationed in the Indian mission in Kabul, either.
The only visit made by Ambasador Mukhopadhyay to Hajigak, alleged to be the site of India’s terror training camp, both Indian and Afghan diplomatic sources confirmed, took place in the company of Bamian’s governor, Habiba Sarobi, in the midst of an ill-fated Indian effort to extract iron-ore from the troubled Afghan province.
Fiction elements in the dossier grow most florid, though, in the story it tells on alleged jihad commander Malik Faridoon, named in it as the perpetrator of the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s massacre of 140 people — 132 of them children — at Peshawar’s Army Public School in 2014. In 2017, the report claims, investigations into a separate terrorist attack led to information on Faridoon’s key role in the massacre. In 2017, the dossier goes on Faridoon received treatment for injuries at a hospital in New Delhi.
From page 351 to 389 of Peshawar High Court judge Mohammad Ibrahim Khan’s authoritative judicial investigation of the APS massacre, though, it’s clear the Pakistan government itself never earlier even hinted at Faridoon’s existence, let alone his role in the attack.
The Justice Khan investigation — completed in June 2020, and made public by the Supreme Court in September — includes granular detail on the perpetrators, four of whom were hanged after trial by a military court in 2015.
Even in the event new intelligence on Faridoon emerged after those trials were complete, there’s no reason why it would not have been shared with the Justice Khan Inquiry. There’s no explanation in the dossier, either, on why Pakistan never notified Afghan and Indian authorities it was seeking his arrest through Interpol — a standard procedure in transnational crimes investigations.
This isn’t the only mystifying hole in the dossier. The document also alleges that R&AW routed funds to Altaf Husain — the head of the crime cartel-linked Muttahida Qaumi Movement — through two Dubai-based companies, Paras Jewellery, and firm identified as JVGT, likely Jasmine Valley General Trading.
There is, again, no explanation for why Pakistani investigators did not seek legal assistance in prosecution from the United Arab Emirates. Neither company responded to Firstpost’s request for comment, but authoritative diplomatic sources in the UAE said no request for them to be investigated had ever been filed.
In some cases, the dossier elides over public information that challenges its narration. For example, the dossier asserts that 30 Indian jihadists were “recently” relocated from India to serve with the Islamic State commander Abdul Rehman Muslim Dost. a former Guantanamo Bay detainee who, when last heard from in 2016, roundly denounced the organisation Pakistan now claims he serves for massacring civilians, and called its commander “illiterate”.
There’s some questions that arise, though, from the fact that Afghanistan’s intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security has said those Indian-origin jihadists were in fact commanded by Pakistani national Aslam Farooqi and one-time Kashmir jihad commander Aijaz Ahanger, both linked to the Inter-Services Intelligence. The two men are now both incarcerated in Kabul.
In essence, story the dossier tells is simple: The Pakistani State’s many enemies are Indian agents, paid to wage war on their own. The truth, however, is somewhat more complicated.
For a full understanding of the story, one has to turn to the early years after 9/11, when Islamabad sought to repair its relationship with jihadists alienated by the US-imposed wars and General Pervez Musharraf in the Afghan borderlands. In April 2004, Tehreek-e-Taliban commander Nek Muhammad Wazir stood next to XI corps commander Lieutenat-General Syed Safdar Husain, promising that, in a war with India, he would be “Pakistan’s atomic bomb”. The journalist Daud Khattak has painstakingly chronicled many similar peace deals the Pakistan Army made with jihadists.
The ISI’s deal-making didn’t work, though: The jihadists proved unwilling to snap their links with anti-United States terrorists or to stop seeking to subordinate military authority to an Islamic state. The Pakistan Army was forced into a long, savage war. The Tehreek-e-Taliban eventually retreated into Afghanistan, some joining the Islamic State and others setting up fringe groups continuing to target the Pakistani state.
Now, as a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan nears, the ISI is again working to bring its prodigal sons home. To the Pakistan Army, an Afghanistan without the United States promises a Kabul controlled by its allies — but also the risk that jihadists opposed to it will operate with greater freedom. Groups like the Hizb-ul-Ahrar and Jama’at-ul-Ahrar have split from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, and recommitted themselves to fighting the Pakistani State; the ISI seeks to cast them as Indian agents, just as it did in 2004.
Like any good story, the dossier’s credibility rests on the fact that it does indeed has material that is plausible. The dossier complains, for example, that India has been conducting bombings in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. R&AW, government sources admit, has indeed significantly enhanced covert operations against jihadist targets across the Line of Control, seeking to disrupt the logistics bases and leadership of groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Proceedings in a London court have thrown up testimony that R&AW funded Altaf Husain’s cartel; India is also known to have had long-standing links with Baloch nationalist insurgents — forged to retaliate against the ISI’s sponsorship of terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir.
No Indian involvement in any specific act of terrorism has ever been proved, though — even in the 2017 trial of alleged spy Kulbhushan Jadhav. This stands in stark contrast to the long trail of Pakistani nationals with well-documented ISI links prosecuted both in India and the West on terrorism charges.
The secret war between the intelligence services of India and Pakistan, driven by Islamabad’s use of covert assets in Kashmir from 1947-1948 on, is well known in the western capitals where Islamabad will circulate its dossier. In 2009, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton publicly dismissed claims India was engaged in terrorism in Balochistan; a dossier circulated in 2016 also gained no traction.
From the mass of inventive material in the dossier, though, it’s clear the core purpose is to shape opinion at home. Little genius is needed to see what the Pakistan Army hopes for. From Baloch and Pashtun dissidents, to politicians like former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who have challenged the army in unprecedented language: The critics of the army are tools of India.
For decades, Islamabad has worked to this toxic strategic script, pushing unending war with India as a means to guarantee the Pakistan Army’s institutional primacy in the country. The policy has brought no strategic gains; instead, Pakistan’s State and polity have been torn apart by jihadism and military authoritarianism. The dossier might win the ISI some applause from the faithful — but it isn’t the map Pakistan desperately needs to extricate itself from the minefields it’s laid for itself.