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Pakistan government can't rein in ISI

December 01, 2008 23:04 IST

India has been attacked again. The financial capital has proved to be our soft underbelly and terrorists, apart from holding Mumbai to ransom for more than 60 hours, have left behind a gory tale of blood and human suffering.

But the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26 is unprecedented in nature and extent. It bears the mark of an officially trained and highly motivated team, who were under clear instructions to inflict maximum possible damage before they were killed or caught.

An operation of this magnitude may have arranged some local support as well. But the fact that the whole exercise was planned; directed and executed from across the border under the care of some professional organisation cannot be doubted.

The involvement of Pakistan's Intelligence agency ISI with terror outfits is now public knowledge. On July 12, 2008, CIA Deputy Director Stephen R Kappes made a visit to Pakistan to confront the top Pakistani civilian and military leaders with hard evidence to show the close involvement between ISI and the terror outfits.

The assessment report of the CIA held this nexus responsible for surge of violence in Afghanistan, including the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Further, ISI was suspected of leaking crucial information to the terror outfits with regard to planned attacks on their hideouts in border areas.

According to American press reports, the CIA officials welcomed this hard line on ISI and it was at this stage that their proposal to allow American forces to target terror hideouts inside Pakistan without informing the ISI received presidential clearance.

Since then, American forces have carried out a number of operations within Pakistani territory, which have been publicly protested against by the Pakistan leadership who have described them as intrusions and violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

During his visit to US in the last week of July 2008, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was repeatedly asked by the media to respond to this new CIA assessment of ISI-terror nexus. In a popular TV program The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Gilani asserted that 'some in the ISI are sympathetic to the militants, this is not believable. We will not allow that'.

We need not doubt the intentions of Prime Minister Gilani; we may even empathise with him for Pakistan itself is facing the threat of terrorism. But is he or his civilian government in a position to allow or disallow ISI its freedom of action?

According to Pakistani newspaper reports, for long ISI has been pursuing its own agenda and at times it became difficult even for military rulers to exercise control over ISI what to say of a feeble and weak civilian government that simply cannot afford to annoy powerful military and intelligence bosses.

Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto herself wrote in year 2000 in Pakistan daily The Nation dilating on the political rise of ISI in Pakistan. She had given details of how officers, who have served in the ISI, have been rewarded with diplomatic assignments, and how the resources of military and civilian intelligence agencies have been expanded so that they are now operating down to the Tehsil level.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a recent history. A casual glance of the newspaper reports will show that many people suspected ISI involvement in the crime. The Pakistan People's Party leadership demanded that the probe into the assassination be conducted under the supervision of UNO. This demand itself raised doubts about involvement of an agency that cannot be booked by the ordinary investigators.

In 1985, Shah Nawaz Bhutto was murdered by poisoning on the French Riviera. It was alleged to be the handiwork of ISI to intimidate Benazir Bhutto into not returning to Pakistan, but she refused to be cowed down and returned home, only to be toppled by the ISI soon after becoming prime minister in 1988.

In 1996, Murtaza Bhutto, the surviving brother of Benazir, was assassinated outside his house in Karachi, with the complicity of some local police officers. After the murder, it was alleged that the ISI started a disinformation campaign blaming her and her husband, Asif Zirdari, for the murder leading to her dismissal.

The former Army Chief General Aslam Beg admitted in an affidavit before the Supreme Court that the ISI had received Rs 140 million from Mehran Bank to rig the 1990 election confirming allegations made by Benazir Bhutto about ISI involvement in political activities.

Apparently, the ISI had cobbled together the Pakistan National Alliance to prevent the PPP from returning to power after it had been thrown out by the president.

Lieutenant General Asad Durrani, a former director-general of the ISI, said in a BBC interview earlier this year that he had taken personal responsibility for 'distributing money to the alliance against Benazir Bhutto' during the 1993 election.
After the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, to keep the Shias of Pakistan under control, the ISI encouraged the formation of ant-Shia Sunni extremist organizations such as the Sipah Sahaba, and extended material support to engineer anti Shia riots all over Pakistan.

To contain the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM -- now called the Muttahida Qaumi Movement) of Altaf Hussain, Sindhi ultra nationals were armed by ISI to kill the Mohajirs, and subsequently ISI engineeredĀ a split between Mohajirs of Uttar Pradesh origin (in Altaf Hussain's MQM) and those of Bihar origin called MQM (Haquiqi--meaning real).

The agency trained about 83,000 Afghan Mujahideen from 1983 to 1997, and dispatched them to Afghanistan. Pakistan paid a price for its activities. Afghan and Soviet forces conducted raids against mujahideen bases inside Pakistan, and a campaign of terror bombings and sabotage in Pakistan's cities, guided by Afghan intelligence agents, caused hundreds of casualties.

In 1987, some 90 per cent of the 777 terrorist incidents recorded worldwide took place in Pakistan.

The role played by the ISI in the promotion of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden was succinctly outlined by Bruce Riedel, National Security Council senior director for South Asia under Clinton and Bush. He said, "Al-Qaeda was a creation of the jihadist culture of the Pakistani army".

If there was a state sponsor of Al-Qaeda, Riedel said, it was the Pakistani military, acting through its ISI.

Commenting on the deep link between Pakistan Army and Al-Qaeda, Asia expert Selig S Harrison has pointed out that on September 19, 2001, just six days after Musharraf had supposedly agreed to US demands for cooperation against the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda, he gave a televised speech in Urdu in which he declared, "We are trying our best to come out of this critical situation without any damage to Afghanistan and the Taliban."

The history and track record of ISI leaves no doubt about the agency being a 'state within the state' and nobody in his right senses can believe that Pakistan government can rein in ISI. Even if they have the will, they lack the capability particularly when a section of Pakistan establishment is clearly in sympathy with terror outfits. The recent statement of President Zardari about
'terrorists' operatingĀ in Kashmir and then his hurried recantation is a case in point.

After Mumbai, we must realise the enormity of the threat and need to put our act together. We must not hesitate to take the help of countries like Israel, who have developed a highly advanced system to fight the menace of international terror. We must with or without the cooperation of Pakistan get rid of the terror training camps, and let Pakistan know that any action against terror outfits inside their territory is no violation of their sovereignty. Instead, it will help them restore their authority and save India from murder and mayhem.

Arif Mohamed Khan