Political Islam and Pakistan’s Intelligence Service


Professor at Simon Fraser University and Chair of Hellenic Studies.

The crisis in the Middle East has inadvertently overshadowed the greater crisis in South Asia where the conflict between Pakistan and India can easily accelerate into a nuclear confrontation. Underlying the tensions that have plagued the relations of these two countries is religious zealotry and the ongoing territorial dispute over Kashmir.

In the case of Pakistan, religious militancy (as manifested by political Islam) will certainly aggravate the precarious truce between Pakistan and India. Currently, Pakistan is a thinly veiled democracy and for most of its existence it has been ruled by the military. However, unlike Turkey in which the military has been the bulwark of secularism, in Pakistan the army is the medium by which political Islam is rapidly taking over the country. The roots of this state of affairs reach back into the British Raj and are the byproduct of divide and rule policies of colonialism.

It was British policy beginning in the late 19th century to enlist Indian soldiers from the so-called “martial races” of the Northwestern Frontier. The British believed that the northern regions of India were populated by “warlike and hardy races”, while the south was composed of “effeminate peoples.” The British colonial authorities in India deliberately kept the northern areas un-industrialized and under-educated to protect their recruiting base and keep the “martial races” from engaging in other pursuits and occupations.

As a result of the ‘martial races’ recruitment policy, a disproportionate number of South Asian soldiers and officers were recruited from Muslim and Sikh tribes. After Pakistan’s creation in 1947, successive Pakistani governments continued to recruit from the same geographical regions, following the British policy of cultivating the “martial races”. During the 1980s three quarters of the Pakistan Army was recruited from three districts in the Punjab and two from the Northwest Frontier Province; areas that collectively represent only nine percent of the population.
These recruits also served in Pakistan’s intelligence service (the ISI) and the fact that they have family and tribal ties in the troubled North-West region of Pakistan has created a unique relationship for Pakistan’s intelligence establishment with the Northwest Frontier.

In the early 1980s, for example, General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, the director of ISI was, like many Pakistani officers, a Pashtun from Peshawar on the Afghan frontier. In 1987, General Hamid Gul, a devout Muslim from the Punjab with close ties to the Saudis, replaced him as head of the ISI. Both men owed their appointments to Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s dictator after 1977, who also came from the Punjab.

Zia’s regime was given legitimacy by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The ensuing jihad against the Soviets created the ideal environment for Pakistan to intervene directly in Afghanistan – with the connivance of the United States. The ISI promoted the Afghan War as a battle against heathen communists and recruited fighters from across the Arab states, South Asia and the Middle East.

When the Americans decided to take on the Soviets in the region they also opted to work through Pakistan’s intelligence community. Under this arrangement, funding was channeled through the ISI to the mujahedeen. The ISI, in turn, used Pakistani Islamic organizations and parties to build up militant Islamists movements in Afghanistan. The Afghan-Soviet war, effectively, greatly enhanced the power of the ISI, while solidifying its links with Islamic militants both in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The power and influence of the ISI within Pakistan has continued to grow after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as its contacts with radical Islamic organizations. The triangular link between the Pakistan government, the ISI, and fundamentalist mujahedeen continued under Benazir Bhutto (who came to power in December 1988). General Hamid Gul, who was director-general of the ISI under Benazir Bhutto, spoke openly of Benazir Bhutto’s ties to, and support of, “jihadis” in a 2008 interview with Tehelka Magazine.
Bhutto’s government was directly involved in infiltrating Taliban recruits into Afghanistan in the 1990’s, while Bhutto claimed that Pakistan was merely returning Afghan refugees to their homeland. Indeed, without ISI support, the Taliban could not have made the gains they did in Afghanistan during the early 1990’s.

The direct links between Pakistan’s government and the ISI continued after Bhutto. Several key members of Musharraf’s military regime, which came to power in 1999, including Musharraf himself, were also officers in the ISI. Due to their support of radical Islamic factions, the ISI has been linked to wide-ranging terrorist activities in recent years, including the Daniel Pearl murder, scores of assassinations within Pakistan, the bombing of a church in Islamabad, and more recently to the terrorist the attacks in Mumbai.
The ISI has been directly involved with the formation and ongoing support of the Taliban. After 1992, the ISI developed a strategy that not only undermined the secular Afghan government, but also nourished the Afghan Islamist movement. The ISI contributed to the formation of the Taliban and helped to recruit Pakistanis as well as Afghans. By 1993 the Taliban had become a formidable force with direct ties to the ISI and through it access to recruits from Pakistan’s religious schools.

The ISI’s deliberate entanglement with the Taliban and other extreme groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba has made political Islam a major factor in Pakistan. The ISI – created by the British, nurtured by the Americans and the Saudis – has become a serious impediment to Pakistan’s social and political evolution. The events in Mumbai in 2008 have demonstrated that parts of the ISI are now almost interchangeable with extreme Islamic organizations. Although it is difficult to determine to what degree militant Muslim groups have penetrated the ISI, it is clear that Pakistan’s intelligence establishment has become a fellow traveler of political Islam. Ultimately, this outcome will further contribute to the mutual paranoia that characterizes the Pakistan-India relationship.

Gul says IJI formed by ISI

RAWALPINDI: The former chief of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Lieutenant General(R) Hameed Gul said ISI follows government directives and admitted that Islami Jamhoori Ittehad(IJI) was formed by ISI to created balance in the political scenario.

Talking to Geo News, Gul said ISI played a pivotal role in the formation of IJI after which Mian Nawaz Sharif emerged as a political leader.

He said Brigadier(R) Imtiaz had a meeting with Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain on my directives because there were reports spreading about dead bodies found in bags and extortion of money.

Gul said that he had already admitted that IJI had been formed to bring political balance; therefore, enquiry should be conducted in this connection instead of creating ambiguity.

Nawaz Sharif had emerged as a political leader after formation of IJI and also two-party system was also established which still exits. He denied the impression that any message conveyed to Altaf Hussain for the backing of leftist parties.



Jinnah Pur map was a drama: Brigadier Imtiaz

Former Director General Intelligence Bureau Brigadier Imtiaz has confessed that the unearthing of an alleged map of Jinnah Pur – one-time proposed homeland for Urdu speaking population of urban Sindh, in 1992 was a drama, a private TV reported. “It was a drama that was aimed at detaching various sections of the nation from each other,” Imtiaz who was a major player in 1992 operation against MQM – then Muhajir Qaumi Movement. “We found no such map from any office of the MQM during the operation in 1992. It was nothing but a drama.” Imtiaz said that then President, Prime Minister and the Army Chief were aware of all the decisions taken in connection of the operation and in its aftermath at that time.

PM not taken into confidence on 1992 operation: Brig. Imtiaz
Monday, August 24, 2009

KARACHI: Former chief of IB Brig. (Retd.) Imtiaz Ahmed Monday termed the 1992 operation in Karachi as purely a military action and in this regard the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was not taken into confidence.

Talking to Geo News, the former IB chief said: “The prime minister had no knowledge of any decision regarding the operation at that time.”

He said meetings were held after the then prime minister came to know about the operation. The prime minister held consultations with the then president and army chief, he added.

Brig. (Retd.) Imtiaz Ahmed said the military operation of 1992 in Karachi was being carried out under the then corps commander Karachi and the army chief.

He said he had no authority to interfere in any way in the operation.


Some comments: (source: pkpolitics):

runaway said:

Now NS claiming that 92 operation was done without his permission. He was the Prime Minister of PAKISTAN not PUNJAB. Kargil done without his knowledege..92 operation done without his permission. Was Qarz Utaro Mulk Sanwar and Dollar Freeze also done without his knowledge…

areeza said:

Jinnah Pur map was a drama, confesses ex-official…



Also in the TV program, General Naseer AKHTAR that time core commander who initiated KJarachi operation admitted that that operation was not for mqm.


BOOK REVIEW: Lure of ‘power vacuum’ in Afghanistan —by Khaled Ahmed

When the ISI could not persuade, it became persuaded. To this day retired officers are backing the groups abandoned by Pakistan in sheer desperation

Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity, and State in Afghanistan;
By Rasul Bakhsh Rais;
OUP 2008;
Pp236; Price Rs 695

Rasul Bakhsh Rais is professor of political science in the Department of Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), and has a PhD in political science from the University of California-Santa Barbara. He has produced a balanced account of developments in Pakistan’s neighbourhood that will determine the future of Pakistan. Pegged somewhere in the middle of the opposed external and internal narratives of Pakistan, he already seems to emerge as an opponent of the extremist reaction on both sides of the divide.

He is realistic about the mujahideen fielded by Pakistan and its international allies against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. He knew the mujahideen alliance was never an alliance and was doomed to internecine failure. His view of the post-Soviet Kabul regime: “The Peshawar Accord for sharing power and constituting a coalition government began to show strain within months as multiple rivalries along ethnic, sectarian, and party lines pilled over into active and very deadly conflict in and around Kabul.” (p.43)

Taliban-Al Qaeda agenda and Pakistan: If Pakistan exercised some control over the mujahideen it evaporated in short order after the Peshawar Accord installed the new government in Kabul. And other neighbours, feeling threatened by Pakistan, stepped in too. (p.68) Most Pakistanis evaluate the mujahideen positively, forgetting that “intolerance of other sects and beliefs came as a part of religious training at early stages of their socialisation with sectarian-minded teachers and colleagues”. (p.76)

Al Qaeda latched on to the Pakistan-backed Taliban because Osama bin Laden needed a secure sanctuary from where he could plan and execute his political and military agenda; the Taliban leaders welcomed Al Qaeda on the alleged grounds that Al Qaeda members were ‘Islamic fighters’, ‘refugees’ seeking shelter against ‘tyrannical regimes’. (p.78) Iran, seeing the anti-Shia Taliban being attacked by America after 2001, ‘prudently avoided creating any trouble for the US forces”. (p.100) It rejoiced at two of its big enemies killing each other.

Piety flecked with poppy: The book navigates between the two versions available about the poppy ban by the Taliban. In Pakistan, the belief is that poppy disappeared under the Taliban. Dr Rais includes the external version that says that the Taliban leaders stockpiled 300 tons of refined heroin to corner the heroin market in Central Asia. The Taliban did not eliminate the stockpiles or the trade. (p.162) Writers like Ahmed Rashid rely on the UN agencies to record that the Taliban in fact cut back on poppy to shore up its price that had actually plummeted because of over-production. Dr Rais also makes an assessment of that view.

The most important aspect of the book is the section that takes a look at the regional perspective of the rise and fall of the Taliban and Pakistan’s management of the conflict in Afghanistan. It is a hardnosed assessment and indirectly rebukes Pakistan for formulating policy within the ISI which clearly had no clue where it was landing Pakistan. Reading the book and its examination of the complex map of regional interests one can only bemoan the short-sighted deployment of such low-IQ army officers as Col Imam as key figures in the Taliban-controlled territories.

The unhappy ‘other neighbours’: Iran feared the Taliban as arbiters of the political landscape of the country to their advantage: “It therefore made all efforts to ensure a greater representation for the Shia group in any future political institutions of the Mujahideen resistance. Pakistan did recognise Iran’s interest in Afghanistan and regularly consulted Iran on all political and diplomatic initiatives. Curiously, Iran absented itself from the Geneva negotiations that aimed to settle the Afghan problem, insisting that the Mujahideen parties should be represented at the negotiating table instead of neighbouring states.” (p.179)

There were other regional factors too: “Pakistan faced tremendous difficulties from its Islamic neighbours and the Afghan opposition to the Taliban rule. Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan all accused Pakistan of supporting the Taliban movement. Iran…was quite vehement in peddling the theory that Saudi Arabia and the United States financed the Taliban movement and Pakistan played the role of an intermediary between the Taliban and these countries”. (p.189) Today the entire Pakistani population thinks the US actually brought the Taliban to power, including Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmad alias Billa of the ISI on a TV channel on August 19, 2009.

Shutting the door on ECO: If any of Dr Rais’ colleagues at LUMS believe that ECO was a great organisation and still holds promise of a kind of Islamic Common Market, they should read the following: “Rivalry with Iran and Central Asian state grew more intense and became unmanageable. Since the world community saw Taliban rule as extremely harsh, medieval, and discriminatory toward women and minorities, Pakistan’s association with them caused major image and policy problems for Pakistan.” (p.191)

Today, it is not only Iran from the original RCD which is covertly fighting Pakistan in Afghanistan together with India, it is also NATO member Turkey that shelters warlord Rashid Dostam and is aligned with India to oppose any future power projection of Pakistan riding on the Pashtun factor.

Persuade or become persuaded: The plight of Pakistan was actually far worse. It had failed to bring the mujahideen to heel on its policy against the Soviets. When the ISI could not persuade, it became persuaded. To this day retired officers are backing the groups abandoned by Pakistan in sheer desperation. Pakistan had a policy that never stopped slipping from its hands. The entire infrastructure of jihadi organisations led by semi-criminal clerics was fire handled by low-IQ officers that burned the hands of the state. The officers justified themselves by abandoning the state amid public applause. And today even the army chief may walk in fear.

The book says: “The United States, European countries, and even China, its closest ally, were offended by Pakistan’s failure to influence policy or politics of the Taliban on any issue. Even in the face of international isolation and harsh criticism Pakistan found it extremely difficult to extricate itself from the pro-Taliban policy, changing it only after Al Qaeda terrorists with links in Afghanistan struck on 9/11”. (p.191)

Power vacuum calls again: There should be an overhaul of Pakistan’s future strategy aimed at discrediting the slogan in Pakistan asking the US and NATO forces to quit Afghanistan as a precondition of peace. Take the following observation of Dr Rais: “Afghanistan’s neighbours, including Pakistan, have for long exploited the internal fragmentation and inter-group rivalry to advance their own strategic interests. The situation of Afghanistan after the departure of the Taliban with the international community’s focus on economic and political reconstruction is radically different. At the moment, Afghanistan’s neighbours are somewhat neutralised by the presence of American forces and those of other partners of the coalition against terrorism.” (p.213)

This news has not yet reached Pakistan. But after reading the book Pakistan should dread the power vacuum that will be created if the US and NATO forces quit Afghanistan as demanded by every TV anchor and defence expert in Pakistan. This time the regional neighbours are ready for power projection by the Pakistani strategists on the basis of another capitulation to the Taliban. India and Iran are allies, India has invested $1.2 billion in Afghanistan, has 4,000 workers on ground, a mountain regiment to protect them, and a military air base in nearby Tajikistan to welcome Pakistan’s next bout of strategic depth. (Daily Times)




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