'Faith, Unity and Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan' reveals the agency's clandestine dynamics

Ordinarily , intelligence agencies involved in espionage and counter-espionage the world over are cloaked in deep mystery with people having negligible or no knowledge of their structure and working. Even if some segments of the society have knowledge, they are distorted and garbled .

For Indians, the Pakistan Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) is seen as a monstrous and dreaded outfit threatening to harm India by fomenting multiple destructive problems. This belief is deep seated in the Indian mindset. But such a perception is not wide off the mark. A book on the ISI is hitting the stands, which exposes every detail of the ISI setup and its functioning. Authored by Hein Kiessling, the book dispels all the misgivings surrounding the ISI and it  adequately deals  with all the questions about Pakistan's unwieldy intelligence body which have perhaps not been answered as yet — making it a most readable book on the subject.

 Faith, Unity and Discipline: The ISI of Pakistan reveals the agencys clandestine dynamics

The author, Dr Kiessling, has lived in Pakistan for thirteen long years (1989- 2002) enabling him to develop a close relationship with the ISI hierarchy and top leadership of Pakistani polity and military. A scholarly personality with history and political science as his forte, Kiessling is a PhD from a well known Munich university. Given his long exposure in Pakistan and close professional interactions with powerful players who mattered , he is  best suited to come out with this  magnum opus on the ISI.

The highlight of the book in the Indian context is ISI's direct involvement in funding the Khalistani movement  including sheltering of the Sikh extremists in Pakistan. The book adds that ISI threw itself into its Khalistan adventure from the early '80s. Terrorist training camps for young Sikhs were set up in Karachi and Lahore. ISI had
chalked out a three pronged blueprint: to precipitate the alienation of the Sikhs from mainstream India; emphasised the need to subvert the state machinery and trigger off mass agitation launching a reign of terror in Punjab. Further , ISI contributed to the high number of fatalities in Punjab by supplying sophisticated weaponry, adding to the arsenal of Sikh militants .

Continuing his revelations on the ISI machinations, Dr Kiessling writes that ISI had instructed one of the Khalistanis to receive training at a flying college in Mumbai, aimed at crashing at an off shore oil rig. This shows how deeply embedded the notorious ISI was way back in the '90s, to strike at critical Indian infrastructure.

Glaring revelations are also mentioned in the book about active ISI complicity in the Indian Northeast. In 1990, ISI undercover operatives stationed in  Pakistani embassy Dhaka got in touch with Naga insurgent groups — NSCN  and ULFA — and commenced supply of arms to the Naga ultras and organised training to ULFA cadres in Pakistan. Several such batches were trained in arms and that eventually saw unleashing of terror in Assam and adjoining places. The Pak embassy Dhaka emerged as the hub of Indian Northeast operations. China too collaborated with ISI in the joint anti India (Northeast) activities which,  inter alia, included funding, supply of weapons and providing safe havens to Northeast insurgents, wanted in India.

In the book under review , Kiessling  has provided minute details about covert ISI operations in Kashmir, Northeast and Punjab. Readers would find the contents interesting to read themselves rather than to judge by this review alone.

Speaking about the budget of ISI, the author estimates the 'official' budget quantum stands today at a whopping USD 300 million. This is in addition to various other channels generating colossal extra funds for the ISI activities from drug trade, counterfeit money, foreign donations etc.

This book is recommended not only for the intelligence community but for all academics and students of Geopolitics to know the truth about the clandestine dynamics the ISI is engaged in to subvert and penetrate the Indian system . There is comprehensive mention of Indian RAW as well, but readers may like to discover themselves  the 'facts' contained therein.

On the whole, this is worth a read as its 300-plus pages give some insight into the working of this draconian intelligence outfit targeting a diverse range of objectives employing most lethal means. Academically, the book carries the history of the ISI, profiles of their erstwhile chiefs, supported by illustrated plates .

The reviewer is a retired IPS officer and a senior fellow with the Indian Police Foundation. Follow him on Twitter: @Shantanu2818

Updated Date: Dec 10, 2016 10:23:08 IST