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India suspects British backing of Pak-Afghan intel cooperation

NEW DELHI: India suspects British involvement in putting together a controversial agreement between Pakistan’s ISI and Afghan intelligence service, NDS. India’s annoyance could impact a possible visit to the UK by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, tentatively being planned for the end of the year. While the MoU itself has not yet been made public, a couple of clauses which have leaked out have added to India’s anger. One of them is that each spy service would “refrain” from criticizing the other in public, among other things. More important, they agreed to “refrain” from cooperating with “hostile foreign agencies”. For years, that was Afghan description for ISI itself. Post the agreement, the “foreign agencies” said sources, indicate India.

Pakistan, sources said, has already started a steady flow of reports to Afghanistan about alleged Indian “hand” in recent violent incidents, many of which though bearing clear hand of the Taliban, have not been claimed by anybody. This is in addition to a sustained media campaign within Pakistan blaming the Indian agency, RAW, for blasts and killings in the country. Over the past decade, India has built significant ties with Afghanistan’s security establishment, which the MoU seeks to actively destroy, Indians believe.

A second inclusion is even more curious – asking Afghanistan to present Pakistan and the ISI in a “favourable” light. Sources here said countries routinely engage in intelligence cooperation with other countries, but they don’t involve MoUs, nor do they involve a public relations activity.

If implemented, India fears it would mean that the NDS would have to engage in domestic political activity in the same way the ISI does inside Pakistan. Many in the security establishment here are joining the dots – and coming up with some uncomfortable conclusions that much of this is intended to target India itself.

The question Indians are asking is what does the UK or other “external” forces hope to get out of this exercise? The MoU has created a popular backlash inside Afghanistan forcing President Ashraf Ghani to backtrack after it became public that even the NDS chief had opposed it. It has lowered his standing both inside Pakistan (because he will not be able to deliver on the MoU) and inside his own country. It has also brought his predecessor Hamid Karzai out of a self-imposed silence to become a powerful opposition voice.

As a damage control, Ghani took recourse to some hardline rhetoric against Pakistan, by accusing it of waging an “undeclared war”. “The Taliban have declared their spring offensive, massive terrorist attacks have been carried out,” he said in a letter released to the media at an international security conference in Doha. “The public is asking whether there has been any return from President Ghani’s efforts to secure enduring peace and cooperation with Pakistan?” the letter states.

While publicly India has maintained a stoic front, New Delhi has privately been very critical of the Afghans for allowing themselves to be conned by Pakistan in this manner. Modi met Karzai, who stopped by New Delhi en route to Beijing for a CICA conference last week, indicating India’s continued support for him, and even a silent endorsement of his criticism of Ghani’s actions.

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