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ISI – Again under Fire

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse ,April 29, 2011

The ISI is again in the eye of the storm. After Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen's damning statements on the agency’s past and its relations with the Haqqani Network and Lashkare Taiba last week, the Wikieleaks has spilled more beans on it; ISI’s characterization by US officials as a terrorist organisation is not less than shock for most Pakistanis. Information, according to files obtained by the Guardian, London, based on interrogations of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, suggests that the ISI has been directly or indirectly supporting, abetting, and funding activities of al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Afghan Taliban. 

These interviews, the paper claims, also lead to the inference that being linked to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist or insurgent activity, the documents say. 

Through associations with these ... organisations, a detainee may have provided support to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against US or coalition forces [in Afghanistan]," says a September 2007 document, called the 'Joint Task Force Guantanamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants.' 

The Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants is applied to determine as to whether a particular detainee can be released without fear of him going back the radical way. 

According to the Guardian, the ISI is listed among 36 groups, including Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri; the Sabotage Battalion of Chechen Martyrs; the Iranian intelligence services; and the Muslim Brotherhood. And all this is based on scores of references, and intelligence reporting, detailing, what it says, “extensive collaboration between the ISI and US intelligence services.

The memos rely on a variety of sources to make their case, but they seem to have relied heavily on intelligence from foreign spy agencies such as the Afghan National Directorate of Security, which is dominated by non-Pashtoon, traditionally anti-Pakistan Afghan officials with a positive bias towards India. 

Now, regardless of the sources of information, the Memoms released through the Wikieleaks contain nothing except the revelation that the ISI has been bracketed along alleged terrorist organizations – as if the ISI were the only entity maintaining contacts with or supporting these non-state actors. 

Books such as “The Devil’s Games” by Robert Dreyfuss, or The confessions on an economic hitman by Jonn Perkins, provide glaring details of how the American CIA works in league with non-state actors to pursue its objectives. The CIA and the Israeli intelligence MOSAAD, for instance, maintain Death and Termination Squads. They also run private armies for False Flag Attacks (like the one in Afghanistan and Pakistan – also mentioned in the book Obama’s wars by Bob Woodwards). 

Hamas, according to The Devil’s Games, was the direct result of the American attempts to neutralize hardline elements within the PLO in the l1970s. The American ambassadors in Jordan and Israel actively worked to encourage and promote Islamists within PLO – so it could work as a counter-weight to the Al-Fatah group led by Arafat. The Contra rebels in Nicaragua also received active CIA support for their fight against the socialist government of Daniel Ortega.The CIA had also officially earmarked funds to destabilize the Iranian Mullas in the 1990s and 2000s. 

Does this then imply that the CIA is a terrorist organization? 

How would one characterise the CIA covert funding and overt weapons’ supplies for the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. All the non-state actors – the Seven Mujahideen factions - were all non-state actors as well as Pakistan’s proxies since mid 1970s. 

As proxies, these mujahideen (minus Ahmed Shah Masood) were acceptable then, and they also came in handy when the CIA and ISI were looking for partners. Osama bin Laden, and Dr.Zwahiri – the founding fathers of al Qaeda - were also welcomed by the Americans as partners in the anti-Soviet jihad. 

But now, they are all degraded to the status of terrorist outfits.A strange travesty of historical links that involved billions of dollars. 

The latest Wikieleaks memos, published through the Guardian, therefore, may not come as a surprise but they do reflect the paradox of the American establishment; it has been working closely with the ISI to cooperate in its Afghanistan mission since October 2001, but on the other hand, the US intelligence and security officials view it with utmost suspicion – as underscored by the secret memos. These memos date back to 2007, yet their content is almost in synch with Admiral Mullen’s statement in Islamabad last week. And this underscores a bitter reality; it looks like the proverbial marriage of convenience; although international obligations and mutual strategic considerations continue to preventing an increasingly volatile partnership from breaking up, yet deep-seated mutual mistrust and conflicting geo-strategic objectives obstruct both Pakistan and the United States from partnering in a friction-free way. The relationship would probably have been smoother, had it been linear. Unfortunately it is not linear at all; Pakistan’s historical acrimony with India, and its imbalanced and overbearing relationship with Afghanistan simply serve as compounding factors in an extremely volatile situation, dictated and driven by the short-term US objectives of scoring quick victories as a prelude to drawing down of its military might in Afghanistan on the one hand, and Pakistan’s attempt to safeguard its perceived long-term interests i.e. preventing an encirclement by the Indo-American-Afghan triangular alliance.

The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk