Restructuring the ISI — Part I By Shaukat Qadir

By Shaukat Qadir

There is little doubt that the entire intelligence and security system in Pakistan needs revamping, but not the way the Americans want it

After a series of accusations against Pakistan’s premier intelligence organisation, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), we recently had another demand from the US, that it be restructured. Before addressing this issue, it is necessary to briefly review the recent history of the ISI to understand the reasons for the accusations and the demands that followed.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA worked hand in glove with the ISI, funnelling billions of dollars in cash and munitions of war. After the Soviet withdrawal, followed by the US abandonment of Afghanistan, the ISI had no control over the anarchical events that ensued, until the Taliban entered the affray in 1994, bringing some sort of peace in their wake. At least until 1996, when they fell under the influence of Osama bin Laden. However, the ISI’s influence on the Taliban continued till 9/11.

Throughout this period, including that of the Taliban, the CIA continued close collaboration with the ISI, often referring to the ISI as ‘among the most efficient and well organised intelligence organisations in the world’ and as ‘our closest and most reliable partner’. In private, it went so far as to acknowledge that it (CIA) received greater cooperation from the ISI than it did from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.

During this period, the ISI was the sole actor supporting and, whenever necessary, participating in the Afghan jihad, and the principal one involved in the originally indigenous uprising in Indian administered Kashmir.

Consequently, apart from senior officers, a large percentage of middle and even junior ranking officers became infused with admiration for the courage and conviction of the mujahideen. Some became ardent, even stringent, Muslims, even though they had moderate backgrounds; others were religiously inclined to start with and only became more so; all were ardent believers in the concept of and necessity for jihad, whether in Afghanistan or Kashmir, or elsewhere in the world. Many of them were intended to serve out their military careers in the ISI. Some were even re-employed post retirement till superannuation at the age of sixty.

In the post 9/11 scenario, when the Pakistani government decided to take a U-turn on its Taliban policy and, a few years later, on its policy of supporting militancy in Kashmir, a large number of ISI personnel felt personally betrayed, including the incumbent Director General Lt Gen Mahmood, who even attempted, successfully on occasions, to subvert then COAS Gen Musharraf’s personal efforts.

Therefore, if in the period between 2000 and 2003, the ISI had been accused of hosting potential rogue elements, there would have been justification for it. However, in 2000, when Gen Mahmood was sacked, Gen Ehsan took over as DG ISI with the principal task of purging it. He was succeeded by Gen Kayani, now COAS, who completed the process: there are now no rogues or pro-jihad elements in the ISI today.

There is, however, one astounding reality. The appointment of the DG ISI used to be the prerogative of the prime minister, another prerogative assumed to himself by Musharraf. Yet, seven months after the newly elected government assumed power, even after it got rid of Musharraf, Lt Gen Nadeem Taj, a known Musharraf loyalist and a Musharraf appointee, continued as DG ISI!

Since it would be unfair to underestimate President Zardari, it is highly unlikely that this controversial retention is an oversight. Therefore, it would be fair to assume that there was method to this apparent madness, not visible to the ordinary eye. Gen Taj has finally been replaced by Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who is held in high esteem in the army. The change has occurred in routine, on the retirement of some three-star officers and promotion of others to their vacancies. That, perhaps, might have been one consideration; the change should not be seen as succumbing to US pressure.

I have reiterated that Gen Kayani has been at pains to demonstrate that he has no intention to interfere in the fledgling political process in Pakistan, but with his rather unexpectedly (for some) tough stand on unilateral US incursions into our territory, he has helped the political leadership formulate a policy that can successfully deal with the domestic war on terror while emphasising the issue of Pakistan’s sovereignty — ‘we will scotch our own snakes’.

So what restructuring of the ISI does the US expect from our political leaders? A symbolic sacking of the DG might have sufficed. But obviously, that did not suit Zardari or it would have been done at a stage when the US accused the ISI of complicity in bombing the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan, instead of shuffling the ISI to be placed under the Interior Ministry and then back again.

It all boils down to one fact: since the US is not prepared to accept that it is fast losing control, if it hasn’t already lost it, in Afghanistan, the only plausible explanation — from an American perspective — for the continued unrest in Afghanistan is that it is exported from Pakistan. Since an efficient organisation like the ISI could reduce it considerably and has not done so, ergo ISI has to be complicit. Restructure it!

Considering incidents like the Red Mosque episode last year, and the suicide attack at the Marriott Hotel September 21 this year, there is little doubt that the entire intelligence and security system in Pakistan needs revamping, but not the way the Americans want it. (Daily Times)