Who’s behind Indian Mujaheddin?
by Bhaskar Menon on 17 Sep 2008 0 Comment

The terrorist attacks on Delhi have brought forth the usual condemnations and declarations, but nothing has been said that adds anything to our understanding of a phenomenon that seems beyond rational analysis. Who are the “Indian Mujaheddin?” Who finances them, and to what end?

It no longer makes much sense to accuse Pakistan of being the villain, for Islamabad is itself under terrorist assault, and in a state of near-terminal crisis. Despite the claim of the authorities that they have firm leads, it would be unrealistic to expect much. The search for clues in the bloody mess left by the four bombs that exploded and the three that did not will, at most, lead to the “narco-analysis” of yet more SIMI suspects, but it is unlikely to add anything to our capacity to prevent the next spate of terrorist attacks.

In this situation, it is essential to examine our basic assumptions about what is happening. Do they rest solidly on the available historical evidence? Do they make sense in the current international context? The answer to both questions is a resounding NO.
Our basic assumptions about terrorism do not reflect our own historical experience, but are based on the highly selective rendering of history by Western analysts. What has been happening makes no sense in the current international context, for neither Indian Muslims nor any Islamic State has anything to gain from supporting terrorism that immediately boomerangs on their own interests.
Repeated public opinion surveys have shown a dramatic decline of support for terrorism among ordinary Muslims worldwide, and the anti-terrorist fatwa of the Deobandi ulema earlier this year has clarified the situation within India. In Pakistan, approval ratings for erstwhile jihadist hero Osama bin Laden have plummeted, and some American journalists have reported that he is viewed as a CIA agent whose activities allow Western intervention in and control of the Islamic world. Clearly, there is need for a new paradigm to make sense of the current situation.
To arrive at a new non-Western paradigm we must locate events in a post-colonial context; in India that means putting the relationship between Britain and India at the core of the construct. That will require us to question the prevalent Indian tendency to assume that the two countries parted as “friends” in 1947, and that all has been well between them because of the cultural affinities created by a century of colonial association. Neither assumption is correct. The British left India after arranging for the holocaust of partition, which killed a million people and devastated the lives of many millions more. This was done not because the demands of the Muslim League for Pakistan were politically irresistible, but because the division of India was deemed essential to British strategic interests.

In War and Diplomacy in Kashmir (2002), former Indian diplomat C. Dasgupta quoted from two British reports in 1946 that outlined those interests. One concluded that “If India was dominated by Russia with powerful air forces it is likely that we should have to abandon our command of the Persian Gulf and the Northern Indian Ocean routes;” the other pointed out how essential India was to any future “offensive air action” that might be necessary in the region, requiring “the right to move formations and units, particularly air units, into India at short notice, in case of threatened international emergency.” If independent India could not “be persuaded to accept the assistance of the necessary number of British personnel,” the report said, there was only one course open, to split the country and create a weak entity that would accept a continuing British role.

David Monteath, Permanent Under-Secretary at the British Foreign Office, summed up the situation in a memo: “If India falls apart we may, I suppose, expect the Muslims to try and enlist British support by offering us all sorts of military and political facilities, to commit ourselves to what would be in effect the defense of one Indian state against another.”
Things turned out exactly as he foresaw: Pakistan became a firm “ally” of the West in the Cold War (which Winston Churchill flagged off with his March 1946 “iron curtain” speech). In the decades that followed, it became, under a succession of military leaders, a largely helpless appendage of the West, used as a base of operations against the Soviet Union, as a tool to influence and manipulate other Islamic countries, and as a “balance” to neutralize and contain Non-Aligned India.

From the earliest days of the “tribal” invasion of Kashmir in 1947, Pakistan's relations with India involved terrorism; however, the brain behind that operation and all those that followed was Western, specifically British. The Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was established in 1948 to direct the war against India by Major-General R Cawthorne, a British Army officer who stayed on in independent Pakistan as the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff. Since then, the West has been the unseen factor in everything that has happened in Kashmir; without the support of the West, Pakistan would hardly have dared to behave the way it has. It is significant that the first foreign trip Pakistan's new President has taken is to Britain.

Relations between the ISI and the British intelligence community have been close over the decades, and have extended into a variety of areas. Britain's post World War II role as patron of the Muslim Brotherhood (inherited from Nazi Germany), developed into a low-profile alliance with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, to guide the most effective anti-communist movement in the Islamic world. The Brotherhood has provided the leadership of every major “Islamic” terrorist organization, including the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The cooperation of Britain and Pakistan in supporting terrorism was most open in the effort to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan during the 1980s. Those operations involved running the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which was wound up when American regulators began an open investigation of its activities after the end of the Cold War. US Congressional reports have detailed BCCI involvement in a range of criminalities, including laundering drug money and supporting terrorists. The specifics of British involvement in BCCI have been difficult to put on the record because the Bank of England has claimed sovereign immunity to shield itself from investor law suits aimed at discovering them.

Media coverage of the escalation of terrorist action against India in the wake of the Cold War has focused on Pakistan's role in Kashmir, but evidence of British involvement is not altogether lacking. The curious case of British national Peter Bleach provides the most direct evidence. He was caught by Indian authorities in 1995 after dropping a plane-load of lethal arms for use by terrorists in Bengal, and at his trial in Kolkata, produced a taped conversation to prove he was not personally responsible but was working for MI6, British Military Intelligence. That had little effect on the outcome of the case: Bleach was convicted of making war on the Indian State and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, he served less than a decade of his sentence: after Tony Blair interceded personally with Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, Bleach was released in 2004 as the BJP government prepared for general elections.

Publicly, the Indian government has done little to make an issue of the Bleach case or to draw the unavoidable policy conclusions from it. The only time when New Delhi complained publicly about British support for violent insurrection in India was when, in the wake of Operation Blue Star in June 1984, a Sikh spokesman appeared on BBC television and called for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
A few months later Mrs. Gandhi was murdered as she was walking to a BBC interview that had been set up so that she would have to pass a gate manned by two Sikh security guards, one of whom had specifically asked to be posted there that morning. The occasion for the interview was the visit to India of Princess Anne, and to conduct it the BBC had rolled out Peter Ustinov (whose father, incidentally, was a British intelligence operative during World War II).

When Prime Minister Thatcher came to attend Mrs. Gandhi’s funeral in New Delhi, she was asked at a Press conference about her government’s failure to take action against the individual who had called for the assassination on the BBC. Her reply was that the British government was faced with an “apparent paradox, that if you are a free country, then you are free to say what you think within the law. But a free society offers many more opportunities for doing the wrong thing than, of course, a tyranny. But then, of course, who would wish to live under a tyranny?”

Terrorist attacks on India have escalated every time when there has been a major effort at opening up the Indian economy to foreign investment. Rajiv Gandhi's efforts to do so in 1985 were derailed by the blaze of bad publicity brought on by the sabotage of the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal.

As Narasimha Rao renewed efforts at economic reform, there was more financial and political mayhem. By coincidence – or not – a member of Britain’s shadowy world of “former” military officers arrived in Mumbai just about the same time as the Rao reforms were being introduced. Mark Bullough came as the Managing Director of Jardine Fleming, an investment bank with a name that traces its lineage back to one of the biggest opium traffickers into China in the 19th century.

A year after Bullough’s arrival in India there was a major financial scandal involving domestic and foreign banks: money siphoned off from them, supposedly without their knowledge, was used to manipulate the Bombay Stock Exchange. When the scheme was exposed by an enterprising journalist, it caused such a momentous loss of confidence that the exchange had to be closed for the first time in its history while regulators reviewed what had happened.
A parliamentary investigation later concluded that there had been a criminal conspiracy to manipulate the Exchange, but attempts to trace responsibility beyond the central figure in the scandal, stock broker Harshad Mehta, were not successful. In part that was because some of the major institutional victims, including Standard Chartered Grindlays, a British bank which claimed to have lost $300 million, refused to press charges.

There were several other significant developments in India during Bullough’s five-year stay in the country (he left in 1996 and when last heard of in 2004, was in Iraq, helping another British operative, Tim Spicer, set up the world’s largest private army). One was the rise of a suddenly well-funded “fundamentalist Hindu” movement to demolish Babri Masjid. The demolition of the mosque in December 1992 was followed by communal riots all over India, and that in turn, by the multiple “revenge” bomb blasts that demolished the Bombay stock exchange building.
It is necessary to remember in this context that Britain invented the Indian “communal riot”, which was unheard of before the final phase of the British Raj. William Shirer, the Chicago Tribune correspondent in India who wrote a book on Gandhi in 1979, recounted in it how it was difficult to find out how many of the riots “were incited by the British in their effort to keep both communities at each other’s throats so that they could not unite in their drive for self-rule.” Shirer noted: the “British Chief of Police in Bombay once told me – almost as a joke – that it was very easy to provoke a Hindu-Muslim riot. For a hundred dollars, he said, you could start something really savage. Pay some Muslims to throw the carcass of a cow into a Hindu temple, or some Hindus to toss a dead pig into a mosque, and you could have, he said, a bloody mess, in which a lot of people would be knifed, beaten and killed.”

In recent years, as the Indian economy has boomed, terrorist attacks have become widespread, targeting political targets and key centres of growth and innovation. However, except in Gujarat after Godhra, these attacks have not resulted in “communal riots” and the Indian economy has continued its rapid growth. One reason for this is obviously the growing political maturity of Indians; another is India's emerging strategic alliance with the United States, which has put a growing distance between Washington and London on South Asia policy. (A strong indicator of that dissonance was Afghan President Hamid Karzai's January 2008 rejection of Paddy Ashdown, Britain's candidate to head the UN-NATO-EU presence in Afghanistan; he could not have done it without American support.) Following the 12 July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, the United States took another clear step away from the Britain-ISI tie-up in Pakistan, when it sent two high-level emissaries to Islamabad to express concern and demand explanations.

British Motivations

What are Britain's interests in maintaining its anti-Indian stance? Obviously, the reasoning of 1948 is now completely outdated, for Britain's vestigial military power is irrelevant to Asian equations.
To understand the imperatives driving London we have to look at the nature of the international power it does command: as a financial centre that is a growing rival to New York. If we ask how a mid-size nation can possibly rival the American economic behemoth, there is only one answer: London is the world centre for money-laundering (a term popularized by Americans as they began pushing in the 1980s for G-7 action to keep tabs on the vast amounts of money swilling around a globalized world economy). And where does most of the estimated $2 trillion that is laundered every year originate? In drug trafficking, gun-running and other criminal enterprises, most of it located in the former British Empire.

South Asia is a key element in Britain's underground empire. Afghanistan produces 80% of the world's heroin. Pakistan, through “rogue elements” of the ISI, provides links to “Islamic” terrorist groups. Both are essential to keep up the flow of illicit money that feeds London's financial power. Britain's control of these assets is threatened by the growth of Indian economic, political and military power, so we can expect terrorist attacks to continue. It does not bode well that London is the first foreign capital that Pakistan's new President has chosen to visit, and that he is consulting with the bigwigs there on how to respond to Washington's activist new policy on attacking terrorists in Pakistani territory.

How can India best deal with this situation? In addition to tightened security all-round, and the education of ordinary Indians to be watchful of their own welfare, it might be useful to call for an Independent International Truth Commission on the Colonial Era. The colonial period passed into history with no reckoning of its many sins because the world slid into the Cold War as Asia and Africa were shaking off foreign rule. If India works with African nations (which have suffered far worse at the hands of their former rulers), we could together expose the cabals responsible for much of the mayhem in the developing world.
The author is a senior journalist

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