Bottomline | All the President’s Men

The ISI is part of the Pakistan Army and cannot be undermined

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is in the eye of the storm. It is being blamed by the US, India and Pakistan for being a state within the state and working in collusion with terrorists. The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice recently said in Perth that Pakistan needs to do more in fighting the Taliban; obliquely suggesting that the ISI continues to work in collusion with Taliban who as a result are gaining strength in Afghanistan. India and Afghanistan have been more direct in pointing accusing fingers. India’s National Security Advisor, M.K. Narayanan has held the ISI responsible for the blasts in the Indian embassy in Kabul that killed a brigadier and a Foreign Service officer amongst others. Consequently, there was little movement on the recent fifth round of bilateral composite dialogue between India and Pakistan held in New Delhi. Moreover, the facade of bilateral counter-terrorism exchanges under the Anti-Terror Institutional Mechanism announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf in Havana in September 2006 is over. This is not all. New Delhi will soon realise that the terrorist sleeper cells responsible for recent blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad owe much to the ISI. President Hamid Karzai has been helplessly blaming the ISI for so long that it no longer makes news.

As President Bush is under pressure from NATO allies in Afghanistan to discipline ISI, he has taken two steps: One, the Pakistan Army has been rewarded with USD230million to upgrade its F-16s out of the total USD300 million US annual aid; the message being sent is that they are doing a fantastic counter-terrorism job in Afghanistan. It is the ISI, a supposedly autonomous body that is misbehaving. Two, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has been invited to Washington to meet President Bush. Reports say that Gilani is expected to face tough questions on his government’s soft approach on tackling terrorism in the North West frontier area bordering Afghanistan. He will be told to bring the ISI under firm control. Sensing what lay ahead, Gilani’s government issued a notification announcing that the ISI will now be under the interior and not the defence ministry. It soon realised its blunder of having undermined the stature of a serving Lt. General (Lt General Nadeem Taj, the director general of ISI) by putting him under a civilian head. Confusion followed and a clarification was issued that while the ISI will be under the interior ministry, the DG, ISI will report to the Prime Minister. More than the farce at work in Pakistan, what comes out clearly is that Washington simply does not have the gumption for a straight talk with the Pakistan Army.

Let’s understand the grim situation in two parts: who is Lt General Nadeem Taj, and why the US cannot clip the ISI wings. Nadeem Taj was General Pervez Musharraf’s military secretary and was also onboard the fateful flight PK 805 on 12 October 1999 with his army chief that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had disallowed to land in Pakistan. The very fact that he is today the DG ISI, when the PPP-led civilian government is baying for Musharraf’s blood is proof enough that bonding between Musharraf and the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani has not weakened. Sharif is indeed on a suicidal mission as he continues to throw tantrums for Musharraf’s ignominious exit; the Pakistan Army will certainly not relish this. Asif Zardari understands this, and is doing his best to delay constitution of the second Supreme Court bench and the lowering of President Musharraf’s stature. Washington is also conscious that under the National Command Authority set up on 1 February 2000, President Musharraf and General Kayani would be responsible for all policy matters for development and employment of nuclear weapons; no one seriously believes that Zardari, Sharif or Prime Minister Gilani would be in the strategic assets loop. Thus, the key message that Bush would give to Gilani when he meets him will be to tame Sharif and let Musharraf complete his term gracefully.

This, of course, is the easier part. The difficult bit for Bush is to reward the Pakistan Army and also tell them to discipline the ISI, which is an inextricable part of the army. It needs to be understood that the Pakistan Army is probably the only army in the world that has perfected the art of fighting the conventional and irregular war together. It is mandatory that senior army commanders should have done tenures in the ISI. For example, Lt General Jamshed Gulzar, an ISI officer who was Pakistan’s military advisor in New Delhi in early Nineties, retired as GOC 10 corps at Rawalpindi, responsible for Kashmir and Siachen. He executed Operation Badr, the 1999 Kargil war, for Pakistan. Unlike other intelligence agencies, ISI is the vanguard of the Pakistan Army that ensures depth in Kashmir and Afghanistan for its regular army. Given its mandate, the ISI unambiguously reports to the army chief alone. The DG ISI is always the hand-picked officer of the army chief, and he has more access to him than even the Principal Staff Officers at the General Headquarters. Once this is understood, Bush’s dilemma becomes evident: he cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hound.


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