This morning, The New York Times has a front page story stating that U.S. intelligence has determined that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, aided the July 7, 2008 attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul. The conclusion was “based on intercepted communications between Pakistani intelligence officers and militants who carried out the attack…”
This is a very big deal. Indian intelligence sees the ISI behind every adverse event (it should be noted that sometimes, this assessment is correct), but oftentimes the follow-up investigation is lax and inconclusive. India’s security services are of uneven quality (with, it should be emphasized, some able people in top slots) and blaming the ISI is easier than engaging in the needed long-term reform. More recently Afghanistan’s President Karzai has been publicly accusing Pakistan of supporting the Taliban against his regime.
But for U.S. intelligence, particularly the CIA (which has a long working relationship with the ISI) to come to this conclusion – and allow it to appear in the newspaper of record is an event of a different magnitude altogether and it should be taken very seriously. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s Prime Minister has denied this support. But the U.S., which has given Pakistan billions in aid since 9/11 and tried to build a strategic alliance, would have little incentive to accuse Pakistan of something so serious.
Unfortunately, effective policy options are not readily available. Too much pressure could isolate Pakistan and lead to a rupture in relations. This is inadvisable – since Pakistan is nuclear-armed, and al-Qaeda cannot be neutralized and Afghanistan cannot be stabilized without Pakistani cooperation. Pakistan can also turn to other powers (particularly China, which is building a giant port at Gwadar) for support.
Also, Pakistan is not completely hopeless. While radical Islam is on the rise in Pakistan, considering how poorly the country has been governed it is surprising that the Pakistani people have not turned even more strongly to radical Islam. The government has recently returned to democracy – a corrupt, inept democracy – but one of the few in the Muslim world.
Pakistan, is one of the central theaters in the war on terror. The recently reported revelations about its intelligence agency’s involvement with Islamist terrorists make this an unavoidable reality about Pakistan that the next administration will need to face directly, with resolve, subtlety, and creativity.
But, as Doug Farah notes, simply writing checks is insufficient.
I found the approach by the U.S. to expose the ISI involvement with the Taliban and al-Qaeda to be very curious. Usually the CIA, or whatever intelligence entity is involved, will employ disinformation and misdirection to expose the weak points in foreign intelligence agencies. In this case a disinformation campaign could have exposed some ISI operatives that were feeding information to the enemy. Often times it is not always necessary to expose all operatives, but exposing a few can break apart rogue cells. Additionally, it would have been better to confront Pakistan in a less public manner with better evidence that includes names and contacts instead of using the media approach. I also suspect that the Pakistani reaction to the charges stems less from provocative implications and more from a sense of weakness to deal with the problem.
Thanks for writing – this is a very thoughtful comment.
My impression is that we have been confronting the Pakistani government in closed meetings for some time.
Also, this may be beyond a rogue operation – this is a systemic problem with the ISI and the broader civil-military relationship.
The PM’s reaction is exactly what you described, he knows the problem and knows he can’t do anything about it.
What to do is the billion dollar question.
Perhaps the answer to the billion dollar question lays not in reform, but using the ISI – Taliban connection to our advantage. From an operational standpoint maintaining a working relationship with the ISI allows U.S. intelligence operatives to monitor from a humint perspective in addition to the sigint apparatus. The U.S. still has a window of opportunity to exploit the ISI – Taliban communication network albeit a shrinking window.
If the US knows that information is flowing out of the ISI, then who is it flowing too (i.e. who are the ISI contacts)? A disinformation campaign is still possible. An example would be to tip off the ISI to a pending airstrike and monitor the communications that take place. Aerial surveillance (either satellite or aircraft) can then monitor movements in the target area. Of course many other operational possibilities exist, but they need to be employed quickly.
btw, I like the veepcritique. Interesting perspective.
This is news?
Everybody knows ISI has been involved in all manner of shenigans for years! Of course the Indians tend to inflate their claims, but there are simply too many instances involving suspected ISI involvement to brush aside.
As far as doubts about Pakistan being a fully reliable ally to the U.S., I’m wondering why it has taken the powers that be so long to realize this—indeed, were the Pakistanis EVER a reliable ally? No! We should use them to accomplish whatever objectives we wish to achieve in South Asia and dump them the moment they start getting smarmy. Hell, instead of Iraq we shoulda focused on regime change in that region!
Oh Yeah Iguess it is on! My recent research shows similar pretext. But never before have the researchers found the names of the ISI links to the Taliban and the Taliban leaers name in parliament and other areas of interest linking also to GH and chechnyian, ubek, turkish fighters. Also the recent Bangladesh data shows that the data is riteous. A big huge step in putting names in known associates sheeta nd enditement forms versus informants lists that are seeding us with disinformation, for quite some time I might add. I will check back here more often , I se you like Sharon have included in the RAND researcher I mentioned as a point of axis for Professors intermingling in the mindpool as I had recommend in a report weeeks ago. Good Work Aaron. Keep it up. I am seeing some great things come from our relationship!
Great site. Keep digging away. You really are doing a great service.