Polaris A Takshashila Institution Blog on International Politics and Security

It Happened One Night (II)

There’s more evidence to support my claims that Nicholas Schmidle’s sins were not at all uncommon, and less to show that Indian intelligence agencies are up to no good in Afghanistan, Iran and Balochistan.

Dr. Fair graciously responded to my previous blog post: ”FP’s Roundtable didn’t offer the luxury of elaborating on Zahedan. I did subsequently. AND loathed wikileaks backed me up!”

I replied: “Thanks. If you can send me links, I’ll gladly post a correction. My overall argument still stands, though.”

Dr. Fair: “My claims re[garding] India in B[alochi]stan, Iran, A[fghani]stan also stand. Western dip[lomat]s [are] FINALLY acknowledging this.”

She then provided two links to support her case, both articles by her. The first was to the Washington Quarterly article on India-Iran relations that I had already critiqued. The second was to an article in the same publication on India’s end game in Afghanistan, which I had read upon its release earlier this year. The key passage in the latter article, I believe, supports my points and I’ll reproduce it here in full:

[S]ome analysts interviewed by this author in the United States, the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, and Pakistan believe that India is engaging in intelligence operations against Pakistan from Afghanistan as well as Iran. UN officials told this author in Kabul in August 2009 that the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s domestic intelligence organization, is running weapons to Baloch insurgents in Pakistan on behalf of India. British analysts have also conceded to this author that they too have inferential evidence that India’s involvement in Afghanistan is not entirely benign. Pakistan believes that Afghanistan is a willing partner in India’s purportedly anti-Pakistan designs. For instance, Afghanistan has long harbored Baloch rebels. According to information made available through WikiLeaks, President Karzai admitted in January 2007 to sheltering more than 200 Baloch nationalists and their families who had fled Pakistan. However, Karzai denied that India is helping them—a claim Pakistan rejects.

The information Dr. Fair uses about Indian intelligence activities is second hand. The implication that Afghanistan was supporting Baloch separatists at India’s behest is inferred, as is the “inferential evidence” provided by British analysts. Why Karzai would admit sheltering Baloch nationalists, but deny India’s involvement is also left unexplained. The subsequent paragraph elaborates upon Pakistani claims. And then the kicker:

While these allegations are nearly impossible to verify, they should not simply be ruled out for the sake of convenience or deference to the burgeoning U.S. —Indian strategic relationship. For one thing, the United States intelligence community does not collect on these activities and thus is not in a position to empirically adjudicate the merit, or lack thereof, of Islamabad’s claims. Based on this author’s fieldwork in Iran (where India has a consulate in Zahidan, which borders Pakistan’s restive Balochistan province), Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, anecdotal evidence suggests that although Pakistan’s most sweeping claims are ill-founded, Indian claims to complete innocence are also unlikely to be true. The United States is simply ill-served to discredit Pakistan’s claims in the absence of intelligence to shed light on the issue. In fact, not collecting intelligence on these claims provides further grist for Pakistan’s anti-American mill, conveying disregard for Pakistan’s legitimate security interests. While conceding the possibility that some of Islamabad’s claims are valid, it is also important to remind Pakistan’s leadership that the scale of India’s activities against Pakistan pale in comparison to Pakistan’s sponsored activities in and against India.

The first-hand “anecdotal evidence” is not detailed by Dr. Fair in this article, nor is there a footnote. In sum, Dr. Fair bases her claims of Indian clandestine activity in Afghanistan, Iran and Balochistan almost solely on second-hand anonymous accounts, not entirely free of bias, and argues that even the absence of firm evidence is not indicative of a lack of meaningful Indian support for Baloch separatists. Again, I want to reiterate that this is not an uncommon practice. I have published entire articles based on unnamed sources, but I do try to ascertain their reliability and assess their statements against conflicting points of view. My central point is that what Dr. Fair does here is not all that different from what Schmidle did with his New Yorker report.

Although she did invoke WikiLeaks, Dr. Fair did not provide any links to cables detailing Indian involvement in Balochistan that supported her claims. I did a preliminary search of the vast WikiLeaks archives that revealed nothing. A more detailed search brought up only two documents. The first records a meeting between Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Minister Krishna, in which Clinton “expressed appreciation with India’s assistance in Afghanistan and said the best way to dispel allegations about India’s possible role in Baluchistan would be to address them directly with Qureshi.” A second cable makes only a solitary mention of President Zardari claiming “he knew Indian intelligence was operating in Balochistan, and it had to stop.” Neither passes for credible evidence of Indian intelligence activities there, the first because neither the U.S. nor India appears to lend them credibility, the second because Zardari is, in this case, an unreliable and biased source.  The WikiLeaks cache is vast, and it is quite likely that more substantive evidence of Indian activity is available. If so, I have yet to see it.

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