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Pakistan's IB is back in action

By B Raman
Last updated on: April 28, 2010 12:37 IST
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The Madhuri Gupta episode shows Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau is back from a relatively long hibernation, writes security expert B Raman.

Madhuri Gupta, second secretary in the press and information wing of the Indian high commission in Islamabad, who is said to have functioned as a mole for the Pakistani intelligence, was called to New Delhi ostensibly for consultations by the ministry of external affairs.

When she reached the capital on April 23, she was reportedly taken into custody by the Delhi police. After a preliminary interrogation by a joint team of the Delhi police, the Intelligence Bureau and the Research and Analysis Wing, she was produced before a magistrate for obtaining her police custody for further interrogation.

At this stage the media seems to have come to know of her detention and interrogation. There has been a welter of confusing and contradictory reports in the media -- much of it, in my view, based on leaks from the ministry of home affairs on the eve of the SAARC summit starting at Thimphu, Bhutan, on Wednesday.

It has been suspected for some time by well-informed observers that the MHA does not subscribe to the reported interest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the resumption of a composite dialogue with Pakistan. Details of the case, as they emerge, will strengthen the MHA's feelings about the futility of a composite dialogue with Pakistan till the latter gives up its hostile attitude to India.

The prime minister himself is unlikely to allow this case -- despite being a serious embarrassment -- to influence his decision whether the time is ripe for a resumption of the composite dialogue. His decision will be influenced by Pakistan's stand on the question of anti-India terrorism from its territory and not by Pakistani intelligence agencies recruiting Indian agents.

They have been doing so since 1947. So have we. Intelligence agencies are meant to collect intelligence. Human intelligence demands recruitment of agents.

While we should be worried over this second instance of the penetration of the Indian high commission -- the first one at a more senior and sensitive level was in the 1980s -- there is no need to over-dramatise it and indulge in chest-beating about our alleged incompetence to prevent it.

What is required is not one more scene in the never-ending Indo-Pakistan drama, but a clinical analysis of the case to understand how she was recruited, by whom, how she was operated, what made her work for the Pakistani intelligence etc.

The clinical analysis should have three mainĀ  objectives: Firstly, to identify weaknesses in our counter-intelligence set-up which enabled the Pakistani intelligence to recruit and operate her; secondly, an assessment of the damage caused by her; and thirdly, an understanding of how the Pakistani intelligence works now.

The picture is far from clear regarding the history of her alleged relationship with the Pakistani intelligence and the damage caused by her. In the speculative reports appearing in the media, what attracted my attention was a piece of information -- as yet unverified -- that she was actually recruited not by the Inter-Services Intelligence, our usual bete noire, but by Pakistan's Intelligence Bureau.

If this ultimately proves to be correct, this would indicate that the Pakistani IB is once again playing an active role in intelligence collection operations relating to India and India's role in Afghanistan. It used to be very active against India till 1971.

After 1971 and particularly under Zia-ul-Haq, the role of the IB was gradually diluted and the ISI was given the leadership role in India-centric operations -- whether for intelligence collection or for the sponsorship of terrorism or for other covert actions.

The IB was gradually militarised by inducting an increasing number of serving and retired military officers into it. This militarisation gathered momentum under Pervez Musharraf. For all practical purposes, the IB became an appendage of the ISI.

When she was prime minister, Benazir Bhutto had to restore the police character of the IB and give it a more active and independent role in the intelligence community of Pakistan. Her efforts got scuttled by the ISI. Since taking over as the president in September 2008, President Asif Ali Zardari has been trying to restore the pre-1971 position of the IB as the principal internal intelligence and security agency of Pakistan. He has placed it under his confidant Rehman Malick, who is the interior minister now.

Malick, who himself is a retired police officer from the Federal Investigation Agency, has diluted the presence of serving and retired Army officers in the IB and restored the pre-eminence of police officers in the organisation once again. After being headed by military officers continuously since 1990, except for a short period between September 1997 and August 1998, it is headed again by senior police officers since August 2008. The present director-general of the IB, Javed Noor, used to be the inspector-general of police of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir when he was appointed to head the IB in May 2009.

The US has also been encouraging the demilitarisation of the IB and the process of the restoration of civilian pre-eminence in the internal intelligence and security set-up of Pakistan. It has increased the allocation of funds for the IB and has been helping it in other ways too for making it once again a professional intelligence organisation run by civilians as it used to be before 1971. The US sees in the strengthening of the IB one way of reducing the negative role of the ISI in Pakistan.

In our preoccupation with the ISI, we have not been paying adequate attention to the rejuvenation of the Pakistani IB. If the reports that Maduri Gupta was recruited and handled by the IB are correct, it underlines the importance of our paying more attention to it.

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B Raman