With its favourite anti-India terror group in Afghanistan - the Haqqani network, which was responsible for the attacks on Indian embassy in Kabul - coming under heightened international scrutiny, Pakistan's ISI is planning to use one of its old proxies, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to target Indian interests in the war-torn country, reports Times of India.
The move is part of ISI's design to keep attacking Indian establishments in Afghanistan and also skirt around the handicap of not being able to use the Haqqani network under pressure from the US and others.
Indian officials stationed in Kabul have warned of recent meetings between Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) and officials of ISI's joint intelligence (north) team and LeT to plan attacks on Indian establishments in and around Kabul.
Highly places sources said the first such meeting, in which some LeT members were also present and in which plans to target Indians in Afghanistan were specifically discussed, took place on September 29 last year in the mountainous region of Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan. Kunar also happens to be the birthplace of LeT.
"LeT facilitated the meeting which was attended by a least one senior ISI official apart from others. This particular meeting, in fact, serves as real evidence of the coming together of hitherto India specific LeT and groups operating in Afghanistan," said a government source, adding that Kunar continued to be an LeT stronghold even after its headquarters later shifted to Muridke.
The most recent of these meetings is said to have taken place days after the suicide attacks on two guesthouses in Kabul on February 26 which left several Indians dead. The first meeting on September 29, sources said, was also attended by men owing allegiance to the Haqqani network.
Intelligence reports from Kabul say that ISI is reviving its old and extremely close links with Hekmatyar who, in what clearly doesn't bode well for India, is being courted by both the US and the Hamid Karzai government as they go about the process of reconciliation.
After the first meeting with HIG in September 2009, according to intelligence inputs, ISI officials organised several such meetings at regular intervals. LeT members were also present in these meetings.
The joint intelligence (north) wing of ISI is responsible for Afghanistan and Kashmir. Sources said that in some of these meetings since September, officials of joint intelligence (miscellaneous) wing were also present. The infamous Karachi Project - meant to target India - is the brainchild of this wing.
"As per available information, the HIG faction under Hekmatyar has assured ISI of a major strike against Indian interests in Afghanistan. For Hekmatyar, who is desperately seeking an important role in post-war Afghanistan, this is an opportunity to prove his utility to his former bosses in the ISI," said a government source.
The official said that it may be difficult for ISI to get the Haqqani network to target India incessantly because of the intense pressure it has been subjected to by the US to act against the Haqqanis. "The US has taken Pakistan by the scruff of its neck and is forcing it to act against the Haqqani network as it continues to maintain links with al-Qaida. This is even as the US flirts with the idea of getting on board Hekmatyar to further the reconciliation process," the source said.
Hekmatyar, of course, is very bad news for India not just because of his military prowess but because any role for him, as much as for Mullah Omar's Taliban, in the Afghan government can help Pakistan acquire the "strategic depth" it so desperately seeks over India.
"Hekmatyar is just as ill-disposed towards India now as he was many years ago. We have to wait and see if he as powerful and influential today but any role for him in the Afghan establishment will not be good news for India," said strategic affairs expert B Raman.