Espionage and terror: Former RA&W chief Vikram Sood’s insights into Pakistan’s role in funding militancy
Earlier, fearing that there might be a Pakistani turnaround in their campaign against the Soviet Union, the Americans had winked at General Zia ul-Haq’s misdemeanours as he went about acquiring nuclear capabilities and simultaneously aiding and abetting the Sikh insurgency in India. India would pay the price for US goals in the region. Sikh insurgents living in Pakistan had recourse to ISI funds and donations from the rest of the world, facilitated by the Pakistani establishment as it participated in its own two-front terror war.
The end of the Afghan jihad only meant that the Pakistan establishment moved its jihadi foot soldiers to Kashmir in the 1990s. This too was massively state-sponsored to begin with, but when there was pressure on Pakistan, it began to privatize this business of jihad in India. Successive Pakistani governments have viewed the use of expendable jihadi fighters as a sound and cost-effective strategy against India. It helped to keep the Indian threat alive while the Pakistani army could continue to retain its primacy while its regular soldiers remained safely ensconced in their barracks or plush farms in Okara, Punjab. Pakistan has deployed a huge phalanx of terrorist organizations against India, one of the deadliest among which is LeT.
Created in 1987 with seed money from Osama bin Laden, LeT quickly became a favourite of the ISI. Its creed—Ghazwa-e-Hind (Islam’s victory in the final battle against India)—was particularly enchanting to the Deep State of Pakistan. LeT entered the Kashmir terror scene in the 1990s when the ISI was busy diversifying jihad on the Afghan model. Its zealous cadres won acclaim. It continued to have links in Afghanistan, received generous donations from the Middle East—especially Saudi Arabia—and the support of Pakistan’s Army and the ISI. Rich Pakistani businessmen, eager to feather their own nests with the Deep State, donated generously, contributing to LeT’s rise as an Islamic terrorist force in Asia, with links to Al-Qaeda and a reach into Central Asia, even the Balkans. It has conducted operations in Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and South East Asia, and continues to train its cadres in camps in Muridke, its headquarters near Lahore. LeT remains an invaluable asset to the ISI and the Pakistani establishment as it enables them to keep the Kashmir option open even while supporting the US campaign in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani terror-business of sending terrorists across into India, which began on a massive scale in the 1990s, soon became truly lucrative for those overseeing the infrastructure of this trade. There have been varying calculations and estimates about the amount of money thrown into this venture. Waging jihad or any form of terror is a financially profitable enterprise and the Deep State has opened the spigot. Money is never a problem, even in times of global distress, for this state-aided terrorism that is described as an independence struggle. Estimates in 2006 (Herald magazine, Karachi) were that the ISI was spending $50,000 to $60,000 on it per month. The 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008 may have cost approximately a million dollars, according to calculations extrapolated by Wilson John in his book The Caliphate’s Soldiers. The amount included training, transport, equipment and remunerations. (Others have estimated a lower figure.) It is estimated that Pakistan’s ISI was earning Rs500 crore (about $75 million) annually a few years ago through the circulation of fake Indian currency notes worth Rs1600 crore. This may not be a large sum in terms of the total amount of notes in circulation but as far as neat profits are concerned it is substantial. On each note circulated, the ISI would skim off 30 to 40 per cent, making Indian money subsidize terror against India.
A Rand report estimated that the ISI spent about $125 million to $250 million annually on various terror networks a decade and a half ago. According to another estimate, it spent $50 million on groups such as the Hizbul Mujahideen, LeT and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). A secret US report estimated some years ago that the annual military operations budget of LeT was about $5.2 million. One operating season in a sector of Jammu and Kashmir for a single terror group cost about Rs250 million. Add to this the number of terror groups that Pakistan has thrown at India and one can deduce that this figure would be upward of Rs1000 million. These figures had spawned overnight millionaires in Pakistan and some in Jammu and Kashmir too. Yet this was small change compared to the profits being made during the Afghan jihad led by the Americans against the Soviets in the 1980s in Afghanistan, and now in the rest of the world.
LeT has received funds from state sponsorship, charities, smuggling and its own businesses. The amounts, paid directly into an advertised account number with Bank al Falah Limited, LDA Plaza Branch, Lahore, reach LeT. The sale of publications, remittances from diaspora and government grants are its other sources of income. Various front organizations claiming to be working for social welfare and charity collect these funds. Bank transfers are used but hawala and couriers are common; the latter especially so for operations in India, in the course of which terrorists and couriers are given Indian currency—genuine and fake. Funds are meant for preaching (dawa), social services (khidmat) by JuD and jihad. LeT has now had a close association with Dawood Ibrahim, with activities like kidnapping, narcotics smuggling, fake currency and extortion money routed through hawala channels. Pakistan maintains its farcical denial or studied ambiguity about state sponsorship despite all evidence leading to the doors of the military and the ISI. It provides shelter, support and sustenance to these crown jewels of its foreign policy. Charities in and outside the country, many of which are in the Middle East, have contributed funds to JuD and LeT. The workers openly solicit money—at street corners, in mosques and through advertisements—for the martyrs of jihad in India. Substantial sums come from expatriate Pakistanis in the UK and the Gulf; although the funds may be meant for the JuD’s social activities, money is fungible and easily transferred to LeT for jihad.
LeT controls several legitimate businesses, including a very lucrative business of the sale of animal hides after Eid al-Azha, which can number more than a million. Its illegal activities include false trade invoices, counterfeiting, extortion and narcotics trade. Publications, particularly jihadi ones, are sold with an additional mark-up, while Kashmiri carpets exported to the Gulf have their prices marked down, with the difference sent through hawala for use in the jihad.
Narcotics smuggling is particularly lucrative, and with the harvest running as high as $2.5 billion some years ago, some of it has surely added to the ISI’s coffers to bolster its terror campaign against India. This is as good a reason to continue the jihad as any other. LeT has been investing in land acquisitions and has opened new offices, more than 1500 in Pakistan. There are dawa model schools and Islamic institutions in Lahore and Muridke where admissions and tuition fees add to the revenue. LeT and JuD workers collect ushr, an Islamic land tax to be paid to charity by farmers at the rate of 10 per cent of his produce. LeT may be the strongest such force in Pakistan today but it is not the only one. Others operate similarly in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber–Pakhtunkhwa. It would seem that Pakistan is showing signs of having more than one source of revenue collection—state and non-state. From being dependent on state sponsorship and Saudi money, LeT has become increasingly self-reliant. It is freer to pursue its global ideology—to liberate Muslims from prosecution by infidels, identifying India, the US and Israel as the enemies of Islam.
The political wing of LeT, the Markaz Dawa Irshad, renamed Jamaat-ud-Dawa, renamed Idara Khidmat-e-Khalq and reborn yet again in 1996 as the Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), the charity wing of JuD. This NGO runs 200 mainstream dawa schools, eleven madrassas, two science colleges, a fleet of 283 ambulances in 242 cities, mobile clinics and blood banks. FIF has 245 professors, more than 500 doctors and 1942 paramedical staff. It runs seven hospitals in six cities and thirty-five across-the-board social services in 260 cities. It will soon have its own private fire tenders in Karachi and plans to provide similar services in Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Rawalpindi–Islamabad and Lahore. Its recruits are well-educated, qualified urban professionals. FIF was first noticed when it was among the first to reach POK and the Northern Areas after the earthquake in 2005. Similarly, it was the first agency to reach the site of the recent crash of a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft near Abbottabad. Some years ago, the Punjab government in Pakistan granted about $9.3 million to JuD, which was banned following a UN decision to list it as a terrorist organization. When questioned by Sherry Rehman, a Pakistan Peoples Party member of Parliament, the government response was that since the ban its functioning had been taken over by the government, making it a social welfare organization.
LeT has a global agenda and involvement. It began with activities in Jammu and Kashmir that spread to the rest of India from the 1990s and continue till today. It was associated with the Haqqani Network terror attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed fifty-eight persons in July 2008. In November that year, an attack that lasted three days in Mumbai killed 166 persons. LeT and the Taliban along with other Pakistani terror organizations attacked a US outpost at Wanat, Nuristan, in July 2008. Their training camps were an attractive destination for shelter and training for several American, Canadian, British, French and Australian Muslims. The Virginia Paintball Group from America, Omar Khayyam from the UK and Willie Brigitte from France were trained in LeT camps in Pakistan.
After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the organization quickly became an eager supporter of Al-Qaeda, providing its operatives shelter, escape routes and even training. They allowed their own cadres to freelance with Al-Qaeda; this allowed LeT and, more importantly, the Pakistanis, credible deniability with the Americans. Abu Zubeida, one of Al-Qaeda’s senior representatives, was hiding in an LeT safe house at the time of his arrest.
The JuD–LeT combine is stronger than Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. It was conceived as an organization that can run a modern state, unlike Al-Qaeda. Given its resources, reach and scale of activities, it is very much like the terror shell states that Loretta Napoleoni refers to in her book Modern Jihad: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks. Al-Qaeda and Islamic State may talk of a global agenda and plan to replace the existing systems with an Islamic system but neither of them can hold territory, nor do they have the expertise and experienced workers to do so. JuD, on the other hand, has professional staff that are trained in statecraft. It has penetrated virtually all government departments, including the armed forces, at different levels and influenced municipal workers. JuD is resilient enough to bounce back after any adversity and the population sees it as a social welfare organization.
Much of this ability to regroup is attributable to the coddling of these sectarian, militant and terrorist groups that are now prevalent in Pakistan. The army does it for what it sees as strategic options while politicians do it for political survival. The common person sees FIF as a social welfare organization, and any stern action against it will not only be unpopular among the people but the jihadis may well turn against the state and accuse it of betraying the cause of jihad and therefore Islam. The result has been that the state has ceded ground to these groups. It has become a state within a state and it is not very far from the Radcliffe Line that separates India and Pakistan.
A few years ago, there were reports and assessments that Pakistan-based terror groups had begun to use Indian banks. Indian associates were said to be facilitating their Pakistani contacts and operating about 350 accounts in the State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank, ICICI and other banks. Bank robberies to augment terror funds by the self-styled Indian Mujahideen took place in 2013. Yaseen Bhatkal, the India operations chief of the Indian Mujahideen, admitted to having received Rs4,00,000 by hawala transfer around the time of the Mumbai terror attacks on 26 November 2008. It has been suspected that terror groups work with some NGOs that do not file details of foreign remittances received by them, leading to the suspicion that they may be involved in terror finance and money laundering.
Given the state of India–Pakistan relations, it is unrealistic to hope that Pakistan will extend any cooperation to control and eradicate the threat of terrorism emanating from its own soil. On the contrary, when India warned Pakistan of a likely terror attack on Musharraf in 2004, they received two ‘thank you notes’ in the form of terror attacks in Mumbai in July 2006 and November 2008. When the Paris bombings took place in 2015, there was immediate cooperation among all European nations, and Belgian authorities arrested the suspects. This kind of cooperation from Pakistan, where India is virtually asking them to confess to murder, is unthinkable. For Pakistan, LeT’s goals in India are similar to those of its army, which makes the organization their prime jihadi force against India.
Over time, relations between the army and terrorist organizations have strengthened as they both recruit from the same source—the Punjab and the north-west regions of Pakistan; this has evolved into mutual empathy and camaraderie. India has to be prepared for the long haul and things can improve only if Pakistan realizes it is in a deadly cul-de-sac. It needs to take the tough road back for its own survival. Sanctions, censures and penal clauses to ensure funds are cut off may not work with Pakistan any more. Only a realization that a future peace dividend may ultimately be higher than the present war dividend might lead to a change in policy. As long as Pakistan has the support of China and convenient ambivalence of the US, this change is unlikely. That being so, some pain as a result of its terror activities might have some effect.