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Reform or perish

Without a drastic review of its defence doctrine, Pakistan will continue to face overwhelming internal and external political and economic pressures

By Imtiaz Gul

Friday Times, June 17, 2011

On the heels of an inconclusive visit by CIA director Leon Panetta to Islamabad on June 10, the US House Appropriations Committee on June 14 imposed limits on US aid to Pakistan. The bill will withhold 75% of the $1.1 billion in US assistance to Pakistan until the administration reports to the Congress on how it would spend the money.

Sounds like the inevitable is happening. The situation seems grim, particularly after the 139th Corps Commanders conference held at the General Headquarters on June 9, and Panetta's dinner meeting with the military leadership next evening.

Much has been made of what Panetta handed to army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI chief Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha: "damning evidence" of complicity of Pakistan's security forces. Assuming that the satellite images really were of an explosives factory and that the people exiting it were Taliban militants, it will result in more pressure on Pakistan Army to take action in Waziristan, which the US considers the single largest source of violence in Afghanistan.

At home, after five weeks of condemnation that began with Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad and continued with a series of embarrassments, the military establishment finds itself cornered. The statement made at the end of the Corps Commanders Conference reflects the armed forces' frustration with segments of the media, the parliament and the civilian government. The corps commanders reiterated their support for the political system and said they left it to the government to decide how to deal with the US. They criticised attempts "to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan".

The commanders also went public with the figures on the American aid for the army so far, in an attempt to address questions about how the "billions of dollars" were spent. Of the total $13 billion expected from the US, only $8.6 billion had been received by Pakistan, the statement said. "The government has further made available only $1.4 billion to the army over last ten years. A relatively smaller amount has gone to the navy and the PAF as well. The rest ie approximately $6 billion, have been utilised by the Government of Pakistan for budgetary support which ultimately means the people of Pakistan."

But the storm against the armed forces and the ISI is not unexpected. It had become evident since 2008 that the American security establishment and their counterparts in our neighbouring India viewed Pakistani Army and the ISI as the "largest source of support for non-state actors".

On March 29, 2009, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General David Petraeus, the head of the US Central Command, publicly indicted the ISI for its links with Afghan militants and said it must stop such activities. "Fundamentally, the strategic approach with the ISI must change and their support... for militants, actually on both borders, has to fundamentally shift," Mullen told CNN's Situation Room programme.

The same day, General David Petraeus, speaking on PBS television's News Hour programme, noted some militant groups had been established by the ISI, with US funding, with the aim of helping drive Soviet forces out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. "Those links were very strong and some of them, I think, unquestionably... do remain, to this day. It is much more difficult to tell at what level those links are still established," he said.

The litany of complaints against Pakistan's premier intelligence agency was triggered by a New York Times report on March 25, 2009 that said Taliban's growing campaign in southern Afghanistan was made possible in part by direct support from ISI operatives. One of the most frequently quoted examples of the alleged Taliban-ISI links was the July 2008 attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed more than 50 people.

Soon after Prime Minister Gilani assumed charge in March 2008, Richard Boucher, then assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, began censuring the agency publicly.

In September 2008, Boucher said in an interview with Reuters news agency about reform in the ISI: "There is no indication this is happening yet, it has to be done." Asked, if he had seen any signs of change, Boucher replied in negative. "As long as you have organisations, or pieces of organisations, that work in different directions, then it's harder for the government to accomplish that goal."

Weeks after the November 26 terror attacks in Mumbai, Boucher once again raised the issue of ISI's complicity in Taliban militancy. On January 18, 2009, for instance, Boucher reiterated his position on links between the ISI and "terrorist outfits based in the country".

"Severing the link of the Inter-Services Intelligence from Pakistan-based terrorist groups 'is a work in progress' and the United States will make sure that it is done effectively," Indian news agency ANI had quoted Boucher as saying.

The hasty attempt by Prime Minister Gilani to put the ISI under civilian control, shortly before leaving for Washington on July 28, 2008 showed there was US pressure on the government to disconnect the agency from militant groups.

Most Indian analysts and officials desire the same. Addressing a foreign affairs conference in Paris on February 7, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon described "organisers" of the Mumbai and Kabul embassy attacks as "clients and creations" of Pakistan's ISI. "The perpetrators planned, trained and launched their attacks from Pakistan, and the organisers were and remain clients and creations of the ISI," Menon said.

These statements underscore a deep suspicion of the Pakistani military establishment and the ISI for their involvement with groups that not only threaten the country from within but are also averse to India and the United States.

What is the lesson then for the security establishment? A drastic review of its defence doctrine, if there is one. If that does not happen, the country is likely to continue to face overwhelming internal and external political and economic pressures.

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

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk