By Sanchita Bhattacharya*
On September 19, 2021, Security Forces arrested a 24-year-old garment seller, identified as Jitender Singh, for suspectedly spying for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Singh, a resident of Rajasthan, was arrested from Jolly Mohalla in Bengaluru in Karnataka.
According to the Police, “…he was in communication with his Pakistan-based ISI handlers. He used to text them, make audio and video calls to them. He had shared photos and details of the vital installations and carried out reconnaissance of Army posts near International Border and in Bengaluru at the behest of his masters across the border…”
Police recovered an Army Captain’s uniform from Singh, which he used to move about Army installations undetected, to carry out reconnaissance of Army posts near the International Border (IB).
On September 16, 2021, a man, identified as Sandeep Kumar, was arrested from Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu District for suspectedly spying for ISI. Kumar, an LPG cylinder distributor of the Indane gas agency to the Army camp, gathered information and collected photographs while delivering LPG cylinders to the camp.
On July 15, 2021, Delhi Police arrested Habibur Rahman from Pokhran in Rajasthan for spying on Indian defence establishments and for the possession of crucial maps and documents of the Indian Army. According to Police, Rahman worked for the ISI and had also visited Pakistan.
As reported on January 9, the Anti-Terror Squad of the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested two persons, including an ex-serviceman, Saurabh Sharma and a Godhra-based woman, for spying and sharing the Army’s sensitive information with ISI.
Meanwhile, on September 14, in a major operation, Delhi Police conducted raids in Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and arrested six terrorism suspects who were part of an ISI-backed terrorist module operating out of Pakistan. The arrestees included Jan Mohammed Sheikh, from Kota, Rajasthan, while he was on his way to Delhi, and Osama and Mohammad Abu Bakar, from Delhi. The remaining three were arrested from Uttar Pradesh: Zeeshan, from Allahabad; Javed, from Lucknow and Moolchand, from Rae Bareli. According to the Police, out of the six, Osama and Zeeshan were imparted training to make bombs and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and to commit arson with the help of daily use items, at a farmhouse in Thatta in Sindh Province of Pakistan. They were trained by three Pakistani nationals in the farmhouse. Two of these Pakistani nationals who imparted training to them at camps Jabbar and Hamza, were from the Pakistan Army. Details about the third Pakistani national were not available. The training lasted for almost 15 days.
Earlier, on March 7, 2021, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch (Gujarat) arrested three persons for setting ablaze seven shops in the Kalupur area of the old city in Ahmedabad at the ISI’s behest. Bhupendra aka Pravin Vanzara (26), Anil Khateek (22) and Ankit Pal (22), all residents of Amraiwadi in Ahmedabad, were arrested. While no fatality was reported in the incident, property and goods worth INR 5,400,000 was destroyed.
According to partial data collated by South Asia Terrorism Portal, 602ISI agents have been arrested in 297 incidents since, March 2000, when SATP started compiling data.
The ISI uses these agents to gather information to plan and execute terrorist and subversive activities in India with the help of terrorists operating out of Pakistani soil. The gathered information also helps the Agency to infiltrate these terrorists into India. These ISI agents are also directly involved in subservice activities, such as the March 7, 2021, arson incident, as well as smuggling/printing of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs). As many as 834,947 FICNs worth more than INR 920 million were seized in 2020, according to the ‘Crime in India 2020’ report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This is an increase of 190.5 percent in volume from 287,404 FICNs worth over INR 250 million seized in 2019. In terms of value, the seizure was 3.6 times higher over the year.
The ISI Directorate, formed in 1948 following the Indo-Pakistan war of 1947, is headquartered, in the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad and currently headed by its Director General, Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed. The ISI officially has seven division: Joint Intelligence X (JIX), Joint Intelligence Bureau (JIB), Joint Counter Intelligence Bureau (JCIB), Joint Intelligence/North (JIN), Joint Intelligence Miscellaneous (JIM), Joint Signal Intelligence Bureau (JSIB) and Joint Intelligence Technical Division (JIT). Of these seven, two are India centric. These include JIN and JIB. JIN concentrates on Jammu and Kashmir, conducting operations and supporting various terrorist proxies in the State, and also monitoring Indian forces in the region. JIB consists of three subsections, with one subsection devoted to operations involving India. JIX serves as the Agency’s secretariat; JCIB is responsible for oversees intelligence operations in Central Asia, South Asia, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Israel and Russia, and is also responsible for field surveillance of Pakistani diplomats stationed abroad; JIM is responsible for covert offensive intelligence operations and war time espionage; JSIB operates a chain of signals intelligence collection stations and provides communication support to its operatives; and JIT is a covert unit with a separate explosives section and a chemical warfare section.
The India centric divisions have been engaged in anti-India activities since the very beginning.
A September 9, 2021, report stated that ISI was flushing Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP) terrorists into Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) with an aim to carry out a big strike in (Indian) J&K. According to the intelligence inputs, these IS-KP terrorists were recently released from Afghan jails and returned to Pakistan after the Taliban overthrew the Ashraf Ghani Government. IS-KP ‘commander’ Munsib, who was operating from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is likely to be used by ISI to radicalize Indian youth and recruit them to IS-KP. Munsib has been very active on social media over the past months. Earlier, a September 3, 2021, report had claimed that ISI was planning to use IS-KP terrorists, released from Afghanistan jails, against India.
An August 13, 2021, report indicated that ISI had floated a new terrorist group, Hizb-e-Wilayat, to carry out attacks exclusively on Indian assets in Afghanistan. The outfit, headed by Dr. Anwar Firdausi, comprised elements of the over 10,000 jihadis pushed across the border by Pakistan into Afghanistan. Besides sending the jihadis to Afghanistan, the ISI had also forged an alliance between its terrorist proxies, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) with the Taliban, for continuing its onslaught in that country to target Indian assets.
According to an August 2, 2021, report, the ISI set up new terrorist control rooms in PoK and also identified eight new infiltration routes to help terrorists enter J&K ahead of August 15 (India’s Independence Day).
ISI is also actively involved in reviving Khalistani terrorist elements in Punjab. On September 15, 2021, the then Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, ordered a high alert in the State following the arrest of four militants of the International Sikh Youth Federation, involved in a bid to blow up an oil tanker using a ‘tiffin bomb’ fitted with an IED. Earlier, on August 31, 2021, the Punjab Police registered a First Information Report (FIR) against ISI-backed Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) ‘chief’ Gurpatwant Singh Pannu and other members of the group for their continued attempts to promote violence in the State, and for the assassination threat against Amarinder Singh.
The ISI is in a relentless drive to export terrorism into India and promote domestic subversion and disrupt. The success of its terrorist proxies and affiliates in Afghanistan has provided fresh impetus to the spy agency to attempt to escalate its activities against India. While several conspiracies have been thwarted, it is evident that there is need for extraordinary vigilance, not only in J&K, but across the country, as the ISI seeks to exploit every possible opportunity to inflict harm on India.
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management