Pakistan: Long arm of ISI needs unsheathing



Asif Haroon Raja

The ISI had developed its long arm capability during the tenures of Gen Akhtar Abdur Rehman, Lt Gen Hamid Gul (VT editor) and Lt Gen Javed Nasir as DG ISI. It was owing to this capability of hitting the chosen target outside the frontiers of Pakistan that the ISI earned the reputation of a dreaded outfit and the best in Asia. The long arm began to shrivel when Benazir Bhutto was PM from 1988 to 1990 and Gen Waheed Kakar was COAS and Lt Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi had replaced Gen Javed Nasir. This change in posture was a result of pressure of the US and the West, pressing Pakistan to refrain from meddling in Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK) and in India, or else it will be declared a terrorist state. Pressure was mounted at the behest of India which had become strategic partner of USA and Israel in 1991/1992 and darling of the West.

After the occupation of Afghanistan by 1, 50,000 Soviet forces in December 1979, Pakistan under Gen Ziaul Haq had decided to provide refuge to about 5 million Afghan refugees and to support the Afghan Mujahideen in their resistance. The US came forward with a package of $ 3.5 billion in June 1981 after making a measured assessment that Pakistan had the will and capability to fight the proxy war. The offer was accepted only when it was conveyed that the ISI will coordinate and conduct the entire war without the aid of CIA and that the US and others would restrict their support to provision of funds and weapons/equipment only. As a Frontline State, Pakistan suffered a great deal throughout the Afghan war at the hands of KGB-KHAD-RAW-AlZulfiqar nexus and Afghan armed forces, but achieved the miracle by defeating and pushing out Soviet forces in February 1989. After achieving its objective without employing a single soldier, the US abandoned Pakistan as well as the Mujahideen who had sacrificed 1.5 million people and had helped the US in becoming a sole super power.

Once Pakistan fell from the grace of USA and it was put under sanctions on account of its covert nuclear program suspected to be geared towards making an Islamic bomb, it came under the shadow of black star. Pakistan’s nuclear program became an eyesore for India, Israel and USA. It faced the whole brunt of fallout effects of ten-year Afghan war that had been fully supported by the US led free world. USSR that had shrunk to Russian Federation was highly bitter, while India was perpetually hostile. Iran was not so friendly owing to its reservations over the developments in Afghanistan. Explosive situation in Afghanistan due to civil war and power tussle among the seven Mujahideen groups impacted the security of Pakistan.

Start of armed insurgency in IOK in late 1989 and India pumping in over 700,000 troops into the Valley had its effects on Pakistan’s security dynamics. In 1990/91, both sides had come close to war. Internally, the society had become militarized due to the Afghan war and sectarianism fomented by Iran and Saudi Arabia had created serious law and order situation in Punjab. PPP and PML-N acrimoniously tussled with each other for power because of which no govt could complete its mandatory 5 years tenure.

Fragmentation of USSR and demise of communism on account of its military defeat in Afghanistan and increase of influence of Pakistan and India decreasing its influence in Afghanistan had vexed India. It feared that Pakistan may exploit the situation in IOK and liberate it with the help of over 60 Jihadi groups and take its revenge of the humiliation it had suffered in East Pakistan in 1971. It dreaded that Pakistan may replicate its model of supporting the Mukti Bahini. Sensing the gravity of the situation, India started propagating that Pakistan is behind the insurgency in IOK and that the ISI is funding, training and launching terrorists from Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). It urged the UN and world powers to rein in Pakistan and restrain ISI from conducting cross LoC terrorism.

The US, both Republicans and Democrats, had been constantly wooing India to join its camp since early 1950s, but India preferred the Soviet camp, although it professed to be non-aligned. It was elated when India feeling orphaned after the collapse of USSR fell like a ripe apple into the waiting arms of USA and both became bedfellows in 1991. Once its newfound love sought help from her paramour, the latter stood behind her and sternly cautioned Pakistan to lay its hands off IOK. Change in circumstances compelled Pakistan to restrict its support to the Kashmiris in distress to moral, political and diplomatic levels only. The Kashmir oriented Jihadi groups based in AJK and in Southern Punjab however continued to extend support to the Kashmiris seeking right of self-determination as provided for in the UN resolutions. Indian security forces equipped with draconian laws and license to kill without any fear of accountability or censure by the UN and world powers carried out inhuman torture, employed massive force, and used rape as a weapon to break the will of the freedom fighters. The UN and international community  turned a deaf ear to the cries of Kashmiris.

Despite the fact that IOK had become the most militarized region of the world (one soldier for 17 civilians), and Kashmiris had suffered over 100,000 fatalities, 10,000 rapes, detention of thousands in secret dens and destruction of their property, the freedom fighters kept the torch of liberty aglow. The heroics of Kashmiris against heavy odds had a telling effect on the morale of Indian Army and paramilitary forces in IOK. Soldiers suffered from demoralization and homesickness; cases of suicides, desertions, killing of seniors and comrades by soldiers, and indiscipline jumped up at an alarming rate. Officers and men dreaded posting to Kashmir, while rate of compassionate cases wanting posting out from Kashmir shot up. A stage came when recruitment in Army dropped to rock bottom levels. The then Indian Army chief had to appear on the TV and run an ad campaign to appeal to the youth to join the Army on better pay scale and perks. Kashmir had become a perforated wound for India and economic cost was becoming unbearable. It was becoming difficult for India to hide its massive human rights violations and barbarities of Indian security forces.

Here I may add that the Indian Army had suffered humiliation at Dras-Kargil in 1999 at the hands of handful of Mujahideen and irregulars of Northern Light Infantry. It was eventually bailed out by the US led G-8 by exerting immense pressure on Pakistan to immediately vacate the captured territories. The Indian armed forces went through another embarrassment in 2002 when it had to sheepishly withdraw from its western border after a ten-month standoff during which it had constantly huffed and puffed but couldn’t pick up courage to cross the border. Aggressive response of Pak armed forces had taken the steam out of their chauvinism.

Unfortunately, all that was gained on the Kashmir front and on the military front was wasted away after Gen Musharraf wilted under the US pressure in 2003 and decided to take steps to please USA and India. Reining in Kashmir focused Jihadi groups, allowing India to fence the LoC and signing peace treaty with India in January 2004 changed the perspective. It helped Indian military to suppress Kashmir freedom movement. Earlier on, Musharraf had submitted to all the 7 demands of Washington in September 2001. Free hand given to CIA and FBI had enabled the two to establish their network in FATA and gain control over airports and seaport in Pakistan. Intelligence acquisition in FATA was taken over by CIA and ISI pushed on the back seat.

Indo-Pak peace treaty in 2004 enabled RAW to ignite FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Baluchistan and Karachi. While RAW assisted by CIA, NDS, MI-6 and Mossad made full use of its long arm to bleed Pakistan with the help of proxies, Pak security forces and ISI remained handicapped. The so-called friends pushed Pakistan to fight terrorism but secretly backed the terrorists. The US kept twisting the arm of Pakistan that if ISI meddled into India or Afghanistan it will be declared a rogue outfit. Perforce, the ISI undertook protective measures only, but its defensive actions were more often breached because the so-called allies stabbed Pakistan in the back. As a consequence, RAW and its strategic partners carried out one-sided covert war while the ISI at best tried to ward off the attacks. In spite of defensive policy of the govt and ISI, and Pakistan suffering much more human casualties than any other country in the war on terror, ISI was blamed to be in collusion with Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Haqqani Network, Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). These were termed as strategic assets of military establishment to overcome conventional inferiority against arch enemy India. The lost intelligence space In FATA/KP was gradually recovered when Lt Gen Shuja Pasha took over as DG ISI and Gen Ashfaq Kayani as COAS in 2008.

All the terror attacks that took place in India between 2001 and 2008 were pinned on JeM and LeT and their connection was made with ISI. Since Pakistan made no effort to disprove Indian contention even after it was revealed by Indian investigative agencies and Home Ministry officials that Hindu terror groups and Indian military intelligence officers were involved in the attacks, it became easier for India to further strengthen its narrative of portraying Pakistan as a terror abetting state and a nursery of terrorism. India’s narrative was boosted up by its strategic allies. The US dubbed Pakistan as the most dangerous county in the world. Pakistan’s overall defensive policy and apologetic stance emboldened its detractors to keep whipping and bleeding it without fear of tit for tat response from ISI.

Other than the salvos fired by the Indo-Afghan-US-Israel nexus on Pak Army and ISI, Pakistan political leadership of major political parties also view the two premier institutions with distrust. Both PPP and PML-N in line with their 2006 Charter of Democracy made efforts to enfeeble ISI and keep Army under their thumb. First attempt was made by Benazir Bhutto when she replaced Lt Gen Hamid Gul with retired Lt Gen Kallue in 1989 and next tasked Air Marshal Zulfiqar to cut ISI to size under the garb of reforms. PM Yusaf Raza Gilani tried to civilianize ISI in August 2008 by placing it under Ministry of Interior. Kerry Lugar Bill in 2009 and Memo scandal in 2011 were other attempts to curtail military’s power. Nawaz Sharif has a history of locking horns with every Army chief and has still not got out of the hangover of Gen Musharraf. Although he didn’t clash with Gen Raheel but at times civil-military relations became tense.

It has now been conclusively established that RAW and NDS in unison and backed by other agencies are deeply involved in proxy war in Pakistan since 2003 and have inflicted tens of thousands of cuts on the body of Pakistan and its people. Series of conspiracies have been hatched and launched to destabilize and fragment Pakistan. RAW-NDS nexus backed by CIA is continuing to use Afghanistan as a launching pad for terror attacks in Pakistan. In order to scuttle CPEC, focus of attacks is on Baluchistan and KP. India is keeping the LoC on fire. So far it has violated 2003 ceasefire agreement 178 times and killed 19 civilians and injured 80.

The anti-Pakistan foreign agencies are making full use of TTP, Jamaat Ahrar, Lashkar Jhangvi, BLA, BRA, BLF and MQM as proxies. London is a safe haven for MQM leadership and Baloch rebel leaders, while Afghanistan has provided sanctuaries to TTP runaway leaders in Kunar, Nuristan and Nangarhar. Besides these strategic assets, the detractors are also making use of NGOs, human rights activists and segment of media to make Pakistan a compliant state of India. Since HN, JeM, and LeT are not playing the game of foreign agencies, they are dubbed as terrorist groups and strategic assets of Pak Army/ISI. They want Pakistan to take strict action against them or else face isolation and sanctions.

It was in the backdrop of this concern of US and India that the Dawn News published a story on October 6. The planted story was allegedly furnished by someone from within the PM House where a national security conference presided by the PM and attended by Foreign Secretary, Punjab Chief Minister, COAS, DG ISI and National Security Adviser was held. The invented story written by Cyril Almeida gave an impression of serious rift between civil and military leadership and that while the govt wanted to proceed against the defunct militant groups, the ISI didn’t. Probable motive of concocted story was to demean the Army/ISI and to reinforce Indo-US stance that Pak Army and ISI were in league with terror groups. The types of Hussain Haqqani, Ayesha Sadiqa, Farzana Bari and several other liberal journalists assembled in London two days ago to play up this story. MQM (Altaf) hosted them. To ascertain the truth, a high powered committee comprising members from three intelligence agencies will carry out inquest.

Having collected tons of evidence, yet Pakistan takes the barbs and whips without a whimper and doesn’t pick up courage to strike back. The long arm of ISI remains sheathed for reasons best known to the policy makers. It implies our leaders have decided to give a free hand to our enemies to continue bleeding Pakistan without any fear of retaliation or even protest. Going by the well-established concept that ‘offence is the best defence’, until and unless the ISI pay back the RAW and NDS in the same coin, one sided bleeding of Pakistanis will continue. Long arm must be unsheathed.

The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, author of 5 books, Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, DG Measac Research Centre, and Member Executive Council PESS.


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