Modern warfare is not always based on two large armies facing off each other with their lethal weapons. In between peace and war, there are several stages categorised as sabotage activities, covert operations, political warfare and information battles.
So, India as a democracy needs to guard itself against its adversaries- Pakistan and China. And while our security apparatus focuses on the military boots and the terror outfits, it is time that we also start focusing on the diplomatic missions. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) needs to tighten the screws on the Pakistani High Commission and the Chinese Embassy.
How covert operations work
In his book, The Ultimate Goal, former R&AW chief Vikram Sood mentions, “Major powers like the US, Russia and China have often used their embassies and other means to recruit journalists, government officials, civil society leaders, trade unionists and academics to spread their influence.”
In his book, the ex-spy also warns, “Democratic societies have always been easier targets of infiltration by embassies, and it is relatively effortless to recruit local candidates, establish front organizations, find political candidates and parties, and use these recruits for espionage and other allied activities.”
And most importantly, Sood talks about ‘useful idiots’. These are resourceful individuals who get played by foreign influence and help adversaries push their narratives.
Such information warfare and psy-ops have been around for quite some time. But have picked up particularly in the past few years. This is where India faces a major security challenge.
Pakistan’s High Commission becomes a hub for ISI operations
In 2016, the Delhi Police had busted an ISI spy ring operating from the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi.
The Pakistani intelligence operations were managed by Pakistan High Commission staffer Mehmood Akhtar. Two Indian nationals based in Rajasthan used to pass sensitive military information to Akhtar.
After the ISI spy ring was busted, Akhtar was declared persona non-grata for indulging in espionage and ordered out of India. The two Rajasthan residents, on the other hand, were arrested.
Akhtar’s modus operandi was simple- find vulnerable individuals and give them money to spy on the Indian military. The bribed individuals would gather secret information about movement of Indian armed forces and pass on the sensitive information to Akhtar.
Chinese Embassy running interference operations in India
And when it comes to misusing diplomatic missions, China is almost as active as Pakistan.
A report released by the Law and Society Alliance in September 2021 pointed out, “A more worrisome factor is that China’s overt aggressive tactics are now intertwined with its covert overtures. China’s subtle attempts to infiltrate the Indian society through the use of a number of alternative means such as financial investments, fellowships, travel courtesies and coercion can be extremely damaging in the long run.”
China has been trying to penetrate key Indian sectors like education and entertainment. In fact, it has been trying to manipulate Indian universities and think tanks by using the Confucius Centres and China Study centres. With such efforts, China is trying to infiltrate the Indian academia and create positive perceptions for Beijing. Such efforts are funded by the Ministry of State Security or CCP, and coordinated by the Chinese Embassy.
China has been actively using its diplomatic presence in India to hunt vulnerable journalists and scholars in India. Such susceptible targets are then sent to China, put through a ‘re-education’ program and later deployed as useful idiots to parrot Beijing’s line.
This is why every time tensions spiral at the Indo-Tibet border, you have journalists and so-called defence experts paint a grim picture. Some of them start referring to the 1962 war without realising how times have changed and others start talking about the unproven claims of Chinese invincibility. Yet, others start talking about the need of diffusing tensions.
Even narratives like Chinese aggression being instigated by the abrogation of Article 370 or the risks of a two-front war were manufactured by different sections of media. All such events are essentially a consequence of Chinese sabotage operations in India.
At the end of the day, diplomatic relations are based on comity of nations. If China and Pakistan cannot behave in a diplomatically courteous way, then India too need not give a free hand to Chinese and Pakistani diplomatic missions in the country. India must tighten the screws and implement concrete measures to limit their influence.