ISI Rogues, Real or Imagined?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was alleged to be involved in the recent deadly bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to a report in the New York Times.

In response to the NY Times report, Ms. Sherry Rahman, Pakistan’s information minister, was quoted by AP as saying: “Years of backing an anti-Soviet jihad has left its mark. There are probably still individuals within the ISI who are ideologically sympathetic to the Taliban and act on their own in ways that are not in convergence with the policies and interests of the government. We need to identify these people and weed them out.”

Later, Ms. Rahman claimed she was quoted out of context by a western wire service (AP) and added, “There is no question of any purge in the ISI. The government has already stated that there are no links or evidence of ISI involvement in the Kabul bombing. It was in the past during the Afghan jihad against Soviet forces that a few pro-Taliban elements had found their way in, and with the change in policy have been firmly rooted out.”

Given the past record of ISI’s deep involvement with militants in Afghanistan and Kashmir, it is quite plausible that there are rogue elements within the ISI up to their old tricks again. After all, which intelligence agency in the world has been pristine in making a clean break or in its dealings with unsavory characters, regardless of the nationality or state policy?

The American CIA has been the subject of purges more than once since its creation after World War II. First, under Admiral Stansfield Turner appointed by President Carter, in late 1970s. The second time, more recently, by Porter Goss after the 911 terror attacks and Iraq intelligence debacles. And yet, the CIA continues to be under suspicion for highly questionable practices carried out by CIA operatives with or without the approval of senior officials. Not the least of these criminal actions are kidnappings, imprisonments, torture and murder of many innocent people around the world. Some of these actions involving British, Canadian and German citizens have been well documented recently. It is alleged that the ISI and other intelligence agencies have collaborated with the CIA in kidnapping citizens of Pakistan and other countries as a part of the ongoing “war on terror”. Hundreds of Pakistanis have gone missing in the last few years.

Pakistan’s ISI also had a major purge ordered by President Musharraf in 2002 after 911 when Pakistan changed its policy toward the Taliban. It is not clear how complete this purge was, given the long history of a very large number ISI operatives who were embedded with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements for a long time. In fact, Gen. Akhtar Abdul Rahman, Pakistani ISI’s head from 1980 to 1987, regularly met with bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan; the CIA essentially micromanaged Afghanistan’s opium production; the ISI trained militants to attack the Soviet troops; well over 100,000 Islamic militants were trained in Pakistan between 1986 and 1992 in camps constructed and overseen by the CIA and MI6, with the British SAS training future al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in bomb-making and other terrorist skills.

The New York Times, the source of the latest report about ISI, does not have a particularly stellar record of credibility. The disinformation campaign by Judith Miller, one of its key reporters, is still fresh in the minds of many people. The truth is that this campaign was used by President Bush and Vice President Cheney in making the case for war in Iraq. The fact that NY Times reports clearly contributed to building up the case for Iraq war is particularly alarming, as it suggests the possibility that these reports would be used to justify another war.

Regardless of the credibility of the New York Times, it is important for Pakistan government to take the issue of rogues in the ISI seriously and review its practices. It must conduct its own thorough investigation and purge any one found to be engaging with the Taliban to aid in acts of terror. Pakistan’s President, the military brass and the Prime Minister must not tolerate any breach of discipline in carrying out the policies established by the democratically elected government. This is the only reasonable course of action for Pakistan to protect its own national interest and enable democracy to take root in Pakistan. There can be no success in the war on terror unless the ISI is made accountable to the people of Pakistan.

Posted by Riaz Haq at 5:18 PM


Anonymous said…

When there is discourse about ISI-Taliban relationship there is always a decoy argument that CIA helped create Taliban-Al-queda.This is entirely false. The CIA only financed Afgan Mujahideen indirectly through ISI with help of Saudi intel.The ISI diverted some of the slush funds from the campaign like it is doing now to fund its own war in Kashmir.Hizbul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba,Jaish-e-Mohamed are fully controlled and trained by ISI. The Arabs led by Osama and misc didnt like Americans anyway and had their own funds and recruited fighters from across the arab world through declaration of fatwa for jehad in Afghanistan. The ISI-Army was playing a double game from day one from 2001.The storming of combat-outpost of Americans through a sophisticated conventional attack opened American eyes to the possibility of SSG retired/serving personnel plus the bombing of Kabul embassy.The larger question is,whether the ISI-Army agenda is inline with interests of state of Pakistan. The systematic ceasefire violations along LoC,co-ordinated bomb attacks in Indian metros,re-igniting Kashmir insurgency are all pointing to one direction.Escalation to precipitate a conflict with India so that the Army pre-eminent position and credibility is back in minds of ordinary pakistanis and diverting the anger to India.

The Iraq 2003 war was fully justified according to me well in line with American interests.Of course, there is always a need to sell the strategic concepts to naive common man. The so called free market economy need predictability,continuity and stability.Saddam Hussein was an irrational person,he fought wars according to his whims and fancies and not for strategic interests of Iraq unlike US or Russia.The ~60% energy security of US is in Kuwait-Saudi Arabia-UAE. He showed his lunacy by striking Kuwaiti oil fields in 90s and constantly had his eyes on Saudi Arabia.Anyway realpoliticks is no morality tale.
August 1, 2008 9:48 PM

Riaz Haq said…

Who do you think were the Mujahedeen? They were mainly Afghan refugees, Pakistani tribals, and Arab fighters who poured in from the Arab world. These same people were bankrolled, trained and equipped by a combination of Americans, Saudis and Pakistanis, and later constituted Taliban and Al-Qaeda. There was heavy involvement of the US and the British special ops along with Pak military in training them with AK-47s, RPGs, Stingers, improvised explosives etc.

As you can read in Charlie Wilson’s war (or watch the movie), there was a matching funds agreement between Saudis and Americans to fund the war.

There was ample supply of out-of-work fighters after the Soviets pulled out. These fighter had no other skills but to fight and the ISI used them to start an insurgency in Kashmir and to support Taliban in taking over Afghanistan who hosted Al-Qaeda. The US completely abandoned the area and left it to the ISI to manage, leading up to 911.

ISI became very powerful, and it influenced events in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan and India. This was a disaster for the entire region.

As far as Iraq war is concerned, I believe it was an unnecessary war based on falsehood. It has become a huge, expensive distraction for the US and a boon for Al-Qaeda in its recruiting drive. It has hurt US interests badly.