Rogue ISI

Owen Bennett-Jones, writing in February 2008:

It is often said that any support being given to the Taliban is coming from unauthorized Islamist elements in the mid-levels of the ISI. In the past, similar claims were made about support for Kashmiri militants. In reality, though, the backing of the Kashmiri militants was never a freelance operation: the ISI was implementing state policy. The organization is led by senior army officers who are rotated in and out for two- or three-year stints. Not only does this prevent the establishment of an institutionalized “ISI view,” it also means that General Musharraf has been able to fill the upper echelons of the agency with his loyalists. The idea of the ISI being a rogue organization acting in defiance of government policy is now, and always has been, a myth that has provided convenient cover for the Pakistan establishment. If the ISI is supporting the Taliban, it is because General Musharraf has ordered it to do so.

13 responses to “Rogue ISI

  1. Jesse Krembs

    Right on the money.

  2. ISI is a very disciplined organization. But its structure, like that of any spy organization, is not transparent. There could be elements of the ISI (as most likely is the case) that are totally hidden from the rest of the ISI.

    The same thing goes for the army. In theory, the army should be totally accountable to the country as represented by the parliament, and cannot take a decision of its own. But, this is hardly true in Pakistan. There are several “independent” wings of the Pak army whose charter can be completely hidden from the rest of the army.

    We can term such closet units as “rogue” units. But these units are very disciplined. They will be taking orders from somebody very high in the defence establishment and who maintains an office open to the press and the media.

    This is the reason why India (or USA) shies from cooperating with Pakistan on terrorism. There is no guarantee that the writ of the civilian parliament is respected in the sections of the bureaucracy that matter the most.

    It will be very good if Pakistan initiates reforms to bring the army under total civilian oversight, and make it accountable for all of its actions. Also specifically, the nuclear button should rest solidly in the office of the President or the constitutional head of the state, who himself should be made accountable to the civilian parliament.

  3. While I agree that the ISI was supporting Kashmiri militants out of state policy, I am not sure if I completely buy the idea that the ISI, and not a “rogue” part of the organization, is supporting the Taliban. The reason I question it is because I wonder what purpose would it serve? The ISI’s previous support for the LeT and other Kashmiri militants made sense, since they were using these elements to fight a proxy war with India. In the case of the Taliban, I don’t see a similar benefit – in fact, the organization is destabilizing to our own nation, even when Musharraf was in power.

  4. Kalsoom,

    ISI has more stakes in NWFP than it has in Kashmir. Kashmir is mostly a lost cause. India can never be won militarily. And if at all the mass uprising of Kashmiris has a success, it will result in Kashmiri independence, and in no way a merger with Pakistan.

    On the other hand, the territorial integrity of Pakistan is at stake with regards to the NWFP. A strong and independent Afghanistan will be a thorn in the flesh for Pakistan. No Afghan government has yet recognized the Durand line. Afghanistan has a significant claim on the Pashtun inhabited lands of Pakistan on the grounds of ethnic lines. An economically and militarily strong Afghanistan is bound to get aggressive with Pakistan in its demands.

    This is serious for Pakistan because Pakistan cannot afford to let go NWFP and FATA. With them gone, it will be no time before Baluchistan (Baluchis are much more restless than Pashtuns ever are) and Sind become independent.

    Pakistan currently is lucky in that there is no international cross-border support for the Baluchi cause : Iran is as worried as Pakistan on the issue of Baluchi separatism. But a strong and antagonistic Afghanistan will present new avenues for Baluchi separatism.

    All this dictates that Afghanistan should not be strong, or independent from Pakistan. Kabul should remain subservient to Islamabad, and Pakistani national integrity remains on this relationship.

    So it is natural that Pakistan has created and funded the Taliban to install a friendly regime in Kabul. Even to this day, Islamabad has significant stakes in fostering unstability in Afghanistan.

    Taliban are violent Islamists are a vital ingredient to keep Pashtun nationalism under check in NWFP. Islamabad has adopted this strategy ever since independence when it brutally suppressed the Khudai-khidmatgar movement. Today’s support for the Taliban is a mere continuation of the policy.

  5. Rabia

    two more possible motivations I would add to that is that 1) the army also has an interest in keeping up the pressure on the civilian government… it has done this before in the 90s when it most probably supported sectarian movements like SSP and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in order to put pressure on Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif’s governments.

    and 2) the Swat and FATA insurgencies are valuable bargaining tools with NATO… i.e., the army can threaten NATO by saying it will move its troops to the East if the US doesn’t help placate India.

  6. Ah I see. Thanks guys, it’s obviously been a long day for me 🙂

  7. takhalus

    I will disagree here..while Mr Jones is generally right there are several exceptions. One is it is a wrong assumption to make that the ISI is the only agency that certain stages others have been more active..particularly 1994-1996..the breaking of the MQM and the original fostering of the talibs was not an ISI was an IB one. Rather than end the power of the agencies the PPP has always preferred the approach of using agencies but bypassing the ISI. So when BB’s second gov was ousted the first target of Leghari and the establishment was arrests and sackings in the IB. Masood Sharif Khattak was the head at the time and a close friend of Zardari. (similarly during ZAB’s time he had the FSF) ..the ISI has always reasserted itself when the time was right..similarly when a retired army man was appointed by BB as ISI chief..he was largely sidelined from operations like midnight jackal.

    Finally I can name two more instances when the right hand did not know what the left was doing…weak Army Chiefs often are unaware of goings on in the ISI..Waheed Kakar was an excellent example of that.. the other instance was more recent Musharraf being blind sided by his coup mate Gen Mahmood in 01..after that Mush took direct control over the ISI through his key man.

  8. takhalus, am not sure if I completely agree with the paragraph myself. But this article from last year is pretty prescient, imo:

    btw, excellent comment thread, thanks guys.

  9. Without getting mired into the larger debate, I would say that anyone who precludes the possibility of the formation of an “institutionalized view” solely on the basis that there is (a) rotation at the top, and (b) those appointments are made by one person, does not know how institutions work, and needs to read more of the Poli Sci and Sociology literatures on institutions. And I say this as a massive OBJ fan.

  10. Well he’s arguing that the control of the COAS over the ISI appointments means that the insitutionalized “ISI view” is much closer to the institutionalized “army view” than those who argue the rogue ISI theory think.

  11. takhalus

    Ahsan: I agree with the principle of what you said of the improtance of institutions,..but anyone who has seen pakistan society up close can confirm that institutions are so emasculated that decision making is very personalised.

    Ehsan Haques takeover of the ISI did lead to a change but not in the way you was the militants perception of the pak military which has changed. The same can be said for Iftikhar Chaudhry.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: