Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI is currently in the eye of an international storm. It is being alleged that the service is abetting and aiding the Taliban in their operations against NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan. As soon as the international war against terror in Afghanistan started going awry, in a bid to find scapegoats, a whispering campaign against Pakistan’s security agencies in general and the ISI in particular started.
As the going in Afghanistan got tougher, the whispering started becoming louder, with newspaper reports, Op-Eds suggesting the same becoming more frequent. Complications in operations, rising war casualties and frayed nerves gave rise to RAND Corporation reports and Pentagon analyses that “rogue elements” in ISI were leaking information of impending attacks to the Taliban, allowing them to take evasive action.
ISI, which was established in 1948, has been through trials and tribulations before but has never faced the kind of open international hostility it now encounters. It has seen a sixty years’ rise in glory and achievements. Its crowning moment came in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when with the technical and financial assistance of CIA, it managed to launch the Afghan mujahideen to force the Soviets to retreat from Afghanistan and ultimately result in the break-up of the erstwhile superpower.
ISI has been the envy of other intelligence agencies in the region especially RAW. India has been specially wary of ISI and has left no stone unturned in besmirching its good name and blaming it for all its woes. The indigenous freedom movement in Held Kashmir to various insurgencies in Assam, Bodoland, Gorkhaland, Mizoland, Nagaland, Punjab, and Tamil Nado, have all been blamed upon ISI. It has also been engaged in a long drawn campaign to ruin ISI’s reputation in the eyes of the west, more explicitly Britain and USA. Each time a dignitary from either western power has visited India during the last decade and a half, there have been “coincidental” terrorist attacks and the blame laid squarely on ISI.
In October 2006, a British Ministry of Defence research paper that accused ISI of indirectly helping Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, being responsible for the 7/7 London bombings and recommending that ISI should be dismantled was leaked on the eve of the President Musharraf’s arrival in London. Hardly had President Musharraf landed in Pakistan after his marathon trip to Belgium, Cuba, USA and UK that he was greeted with yet another allegation on ISI. To rub salt in the wound, Mumbai’s police chief, A N Roy came out with his own conclusion of the investigations into July 11 bomb attacks in Mumbai, alleging that the attacks were planned by the ISI and carried out by the Islamist militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, based in Pakistan.
9/11 changed India’s fortunes. It found a great opportunity to surround and destabilise Pakistan through RAW operatives in its numerous consulates and trade missions in Afghanistan with the help of its Afghan surrogates. There has been ample evidence that RAW has been fomenting trouble in Balochistan as well fanning mischief in FATA and the tribal belt but blaming ISI for the predicament.
Thus the whispering campaign, which when found inadequate, led to the extreme measure of the attack on the Indian Chancery in Kabul and pinning the blame on ISI. Pakistan’s rejection of the accusation led to similar attacks in Indian cities of Ahmadabad and Bangalore followed by an attack on Pakistan’s mission in Herat with ISI being named as the culprit in each. To add insult to injury, damning evidence was produced in the shape of “intercepted telecommunication messages” between ISI and the miscreants “responsible” for the attack.
Exasperated by its own failures in Afghanistan, a gullible USA and CIA has been roped in to believe the Indian propaganda. Unfortunately, our own government cast the first stone, when acting in haste, on the eve of the PM’s arrival at White House; it chose to issue a notification in the dead of the night that the IB and ISI have been placed under the Interior Ministry. The ill-advised and un-parliamentary decision caused a furore and had to be withdrawn equally hastily.
The government must avoid ISI being targeted by its detractors. In case it perceives the need for reforms in its premier intelligence agency, it can appoint a commission to recommend measures like the one assigned by Z.A. Bhutto under the chairmanship of Air Chief Marshal Zulfikar Ali Khan. ISI is a weapon in the hands of the government and its appropriate utilisation rests upon its wisdom, the institution should not be destroyed at the behest of its adversary.
The writer is a political and defence analyst
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