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The ISI bogey and the not-so intelligent Intelligence reports
By Yoginder Sikand
|The August 2000 issue of the Mumbai-based magazine, Communalism Combat carried a lengthy lead article titled, 'ISI: The Demon We Feed', based on reports provided by Indian intelligence agencies. The reports purport to provide a comprehensive account of the various activities of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence in India. They claim that the ISI's new game-plan in its conspiracy to destabilize India is to use sections of India's vast Muslim population for its purposes. The 'insider' information provided to Communalism Combat is replete with unfounded charges and allegations, and is framed within a discourse of hard-hitting Hindutva rhetoric.
According to the reports, the ISI is now funding the establishment of Islamic madrasas in the border regions of Gujarat, Rajasthan, north UP, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. These are presented as breeding grounds for producing Muslim 'terrorists.’ How the ISI has been able to channelize such vast amounts of funds for setting up these Islamic schools is not revealed. Nor is there any mention of what the madrasa students are being taught so that they would go on to turn into 'terrorists.’ The intelligence reports note that 'Muslim organizations influenced by the highly orthodox Wahhabi philosophy, Tablighi Jamaat, Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat-i-Ulama and Ahl-i sHadith', have established these madrasas, but they do not care to detail the curriculum of these schools or to tell us precisely how, if at all, they are being allegedly used by the ISI.
According to the Communalism Combat article, the information reports have alleged that the ISI's new plot to use the madrasas to destabilize India is being implemented in the following stages:
1. 'Organize the minority community through a chain of madrasas.
2. 'The muftis, maulvis and imams may be replaced by highly fanatic agents of ISI in future.’
3. 'In future, these affected madrasas may provide shelter to hard-core militants.’
4. 'Madrasas may be used to spread propaganda and subvert the minds of the masses.'
5. 'Considering the change in the demographic pattern of West Bengal and some North-Eastern states, a day might come when some fundamentalists may make a demand for a separate country.’
It might well be true that a number of madrasas have been set up in some border areas in recent years. However, this has to be seen as part of a larger all-India phenomenon. Madrasas have been coming up all over the country, not only in the border areas. Are we then to believe that madrasas being set up in Kerala or Madhya Pradesh, areas far away from international borders, are also being financed by Pakistan? The Indian Constitution allows for all groups to set up institutions to provide religious instruction. Muslims are, then, well within their rights to set up madrasas. While the current state of affairs of many madrasa may leave much to be desired, they serve a valuable function in preserving and transmitting knowledge and awareness of Islam to the general Muslim populace. In this context, one may be tempted to ask if the crusade against the madrasas which one is witnessing today, and one that is such a central tenet in Hindutva discourse, is not motivated by a wider design, to cut off Muslims from the sources of their religious traditions and, finally, to absorb them into the Hindu fold? To suggest that madrasas in general are dens of superstition and backwardness and, as such, breeding grounds for 'terrorists' is one thing, but to actually prove, by providing instances based on a detailed empirical study, of madrasas being used by the ISI is quite another. This the intelligence reports as quoted in the Communalism Combat article do not do. Of course, one cannot rule out the possibility of the ISI using madrasas to carry on its activities in India. If a madrasa is proven to have been financed by the ISI or in league with it, the law of the land would need to take its course, but in the absence of any firm empirical evidence in this regard, to accuse madrasas and Muslim organizations of being ISI agents is only to play into the hands of the Hindutva brigade. If madrasas or other Muslim institutions begin to be targetted without any proof of their alleged Pakistani or 'terrorist' links, as was the case with the recent incidents at the Jamia Millia Islamia and the Shibli College, Azamgarh, this can only lead to greater insecurity among Muslims and may well convert the whole ISI bogey into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The intelligence reports quoted in the Communalism Combat article suggest that another means that the ISI is allegedly employing in its effort to destabilize India is to engineer demographic changes in the area. They see the reduction of the Hindu population of Nepal from 100 % in 1970 to 70% in 1991 as evidence in this regard. Are we seriously expected to believe that the ISI has now emerged as so powerful, lethal and effective that it can dictate international population policies or people's reproductive choices?
To claim that Nepal had a 100% Hindu population in 1970 is simply absurd. What about the vast number of Buddhists of the country? What about the sizeable number of Madhesia Muslims who have been living in southern Nepal for centuries or, for that matter, the Kashmiri Muslims of Kathmandu, whose arrival in Nepal dates back some two hundred years? The Communalism Combat report quotes at length from a study titled 'Bangladeshi Influx in West Bengal: a Demographic Study' undertaken by the intelligence agencies. The communal bias in the study is glaring, when it refers to six million Hindus as having 'left' Bangladesh for India between 1971 and 1981 and to an equal number of Bangladeshi Muslims as having allegedly 'infiltrated' into India between 1981 and 1991.
Poverty is the major factor that promotes infiltration across the Indo-Bangladesh border. How, one must ask, do Hindu Bangladeshis in India become refugees and their Muslim compatriots as 'inflitrators'? The report also grossly exaggerates the extent of the Bangladeshi Muslim 'silent invasion.’ At one place, it tells us that the Muslim population of the Malda district in West Bengal has increased from 15.27% to 47.47%, a growth of some 32%, but elsewhere says that it has gone up only 2.2%, from 45.27% to 47.7%.
This carelessness with statistics in order to conjure up a 'Muslim invasion' scare is also evident in a report prepared by the intelligence agencies titled 'Influx of Bangladeshi Nationals in Assam: Its Effect, Causes and Remedies.’ The report tells us that, owing largely to an alleged mass Bangladeshi influx, 13 out of Assam's 23 districts have become Muslim majority. On the other hand, elsewhere the report tells us that the proportion of Muslims in Assam's population has gone up by less than 4% in the last two decades. What is particularly striking about the intelligence reports as quoted by Communalism Combat is the very distinct way in which they look at Muslim as opposed to Hindu groups and movements. Ample references to Muslim 'fanaticism' and 'fundamentalism' contrast strikingly with a rather benign attitude towards extremist, fascist Hindu organizations. Thus, the intelligence report on Gujarat is bitterly critical of Muslim organizations, but is curiously silent on the activities of the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal etc., that have let loose a reign of terror on the Muslims and Christians of the state. Are we to believe that Hindu organizations that indulge in widespread murder and mayhem are angels of mercy and have no potential to destabilize the country? Are we to understand that if a Hindu group unleashes violence against Muslims and thus sets one group against the other, the ISI does not stand to gain and India's peace and security remains unaffected, but that when a ramshackle madrasa is set up in a little village, the ISI's grand conspiracy to break up India moves one step closer to completion?
One does not wish, in any way, to deny the possibility of an ISI hand in certain acts of destabilization in India. It is true that it has been responsible for promoting violence and disruption in some parts of the country, as, indeed, Indian agencies have been blamed for similar acts in Pakistan, but to suggest, as the not-so intelligent reports of the intelligence agencies would like us to believe, that almost all acts of destabilization in India today are a direct outcome of a hidden Pakistani or 'Islamic fundamentalist' agenda is ridiculous in the extreme. By toeing the Hindutva line, as the intelligence reports seem, at places, to do, one can only play into the hands of the ISI and other forces for whom every attempt at spreading hatred and violence between the different communities in the country is a blessing in disguise. q