Saturday, 26 January 2013

There is no Rogue ISI

Ever since 26/Nov Mumbai attacks in the year 2008 the people of the subcontinent are being lead to believe that there are some rogue ISI elements who have been out of control of the Pakistani Army and who have not severed there links with the terrorists and Taliban and who have possibly planned and carried out the attacks. Mr Ahmed Rashid a well respected author and journalist who is an Afghanistan/Pakistan expert had argued in 2008 immediately after that attacks that the attacks were perhaps planned and executed by the al-qaeda along with "disbanded LeT". He had written in an article for BBC "Al-Qaeda is looking for some relief and a diversion... This strategic diversion ploy for the sake of al-Qaeda and its surrogates is the principle motive behind the Mumbai terrorist attacks." He went on to say "Charges that the Pakistan government, army or its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were behind the attack appear unfounded." In the words of the Pakistani government after they finally agreed that the attack was planned in and executed from Pakistan, they were "non state actors".

However in the same year before Mumbai attacks while discussing his book Descent into Chaos in the Conversations With History program with Harry Kreisler Mr Rashid had categorically stated that "there is no rogue ISI". The so called rogue ISI was created to continue supporting Taliban while avoiding detection by the CIA of its activities. Retired Army generals, and ISI men who had worked with the Taliban were given "part time" jobs to go on a "vacation from home for 4 weeks 5 weeks" and work with the Taliban.

Ahmed Rashid - "There is no Rogue ISI" (26:02)

All this has been in public domain for quite sometime it is also in the US government's knowledge for a. long time that Pakistan is supporting the Taliban and keeping it as a "Strategic Asset". A 2007 Congressional Research Service report RS22632 titled "Pakistan and Terrorism: A Summary" released by Wikileaks in Feb 2009 in its summary mentions that "The outcomes of U.S. policies toward Pakistan since 9/11, while not devoid of meaningful successes, have neither neutralized anti-Western militants and reduced religious extremism in that country, nor have they contributed sufficiently to the stabilization of neighboring Afghanistan. Many observers thus urge a broad re-evaluation of such policies."

The report says  "Throughout the opening months of 2007, Administration officials, U.S. military commanders, and senior U.S. Senators issued further incriminating statements about Pakistan’s assumed status as a terrorist base and the allegedly insufficient response of the Islamabad government." it goes on to say "The United States also remains concerned with indigenous extremist groups in Pakistan, and with the ongoing 'cross-border infiltration' of Islamist militants who traverse the Kashmiri Line of Control and other borders to engage in terrorist acts in India and Indian Kashmir. Many analysts consider such activities conceptually inseparable from the problem of Islamist militancy in western Pakistan and in Afghanistan. Domestic terrorism in Pakistan, much of it associated with Islamist sectarianism, has become an increasingly serious problem affecting major Pakistani cities. Separatist violence in India’s Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state has continued unabated since 1989 with some notable relative decline in recent years. Many experts reject efforts by the Pakistani government and others to draw significant distinctions between U.S.- and Indian-designated terrorist groups fighting in Kashmir and those fighting in western Pakistan and Afghanistan, and in Pakistan’s interior".

The report clearly raises doubt on Pakistan's intentions by stating that "Numerous experts raise questions about the determination, sincerity, and effectiveness of Pakistani government efforts to combat religious extremists. Doubts are widely held by Western experts, many of whom express concerns about the implications of maintaining present U.S. policies toward the region, and about the efficacy of Islamabad’s latest strategy, which appears to seek reconciliation with pro-Taliban militants." The report is so damning that I can go on quoting from the report but it is rather better if the interested reader reads it himself/herself. It is also in my view one of the main inputs if not the cornerstone of the subsequent Obama government's policy in  Pakistan as I have covered below.

Mr Rashid's assertions in the interview to University of California Berkley, and the picture of a typical handler of this "ISI within ISI" fits well people like Hamid Gul a retired ISI chief with links with both Taliban and LeT founder Hafees Saeed. He openly conducts meetings with Hafees Saeed and other Jehadi outfits in Pakistan on a supposed pro Kashmir and anti India platform. There is no dearth for such India baiters in Pakistan who fit the bill of these "ISI within ISI" operatives. The narrative since Mumbai asking for restraint from the people of India and from the GOI at the face of all provocations has been that al-Qaeda  and Taliban affiliates "want to divert attention from the west of Pakistan to the east". On the face of it this argument seems logical and valid. US war in Afghanistan would have been jeopardized by any Indo-Pak flareups, so it was valid for the US to make this argument. But the odd price for this restraint will have to be paid by innocent citizens of India. The perpetrators of Mumbai are still not punished and Hafees Saeed is a free man.

Frankly there are so many diversions in the diversions that no one can say what the real story behind Mumbai is. Was it to divert Pakistan from the west? Or was it planned with an assumption that no trace will be found as to who was behind that attacks? Did the ISI within ISI get embolden with its success in hoodwinking the CIA and felt it was time to punish India as a warning to keep out of Afghanistan? Was the planning for the attack done with  full knowledge that there will be no military response from India after all Pakistan had built up conventional and nuclear military since 9/11 with US military aid. Is it wrong to suspect that the real perpetrators were pretty much the establishment itself rather than any rogue elements?

But what is interesting is to note the response of the United States and India to these Mini ISI's activities. While India replied under the time tested "good faith policy"(I am not sure if it has ever worked) and resumed uninterrupted and un-interruptible dialog with Pakistan. US also had "time tested"(never worked?) response in the lines of continuing to provide aid carrots to its "strategic ally".

Obama government replaced the Bush government in Jan 2009. Under Obama's watch AF-PAK policy was formulated. Under this policy an attempt was initially made to include India too which the Indian government declined. The idea was to engage the whole region for solving Pakistan's problems. India did not want to be clubbed so as to avoid any external pressures on its own national interest, especially pressures to "resolve" Kashmir as an incentive to Pakistan for stop supporting the terrorists. But never the less all said and done after Mumbai we still started dialog with Pakistan "in spite of terrorism". In US a policy change was perhaps undertaken and Afghanistan was brought back in focus. A military surge was ordered but unfortunately at the same time a withdrawal date was announced thus emboldening the Taliban and its friends to dig in and fight it out.

On the aid front United States had now installed an old Pakistan friend and India-baiter Ms Robin Raphel as Ambassador responsible for the targeted civilian aid to "improve the image of United States". At the same time it seems the Pakistani concerns as mentioned in the Congressional Report were being addressed during the drafting of the so called Kerry-Lugar bill sanctioning civilian aid of $1.5 billion per year. When the US congress was pushing President Bush to be tough on Pakistan after his years of leniency for inaction on Taliban as per the CRS report  "In response to U.S. congressional signals of a possible shift in U.S. policy toward Islamabad, the Pakistani National Assembly’s Defense Committee unanimously passed a resolution threatening to end or reduce Islamabad’s cooperation on counter terrorism if U.S. aid to Pakistan were to be made conditional."  later the report says "Other analysts, however, including those making policy for the Bush Administration, believe that conditioning U.S. aid to Pakistan has a past record of failure and likely would be counterproductive."

The Kerry Lugar bill does impose certain restrictions. For civilian aid it requires a certification each year by the special representative to Pakistan (Robin Raphel) to certify that "principal objectives" are being met in order to release the full quantum of $1.5 billion, but is also allows up to $750 million to be released without such certification. The bill also puts a certification requirement for certain military assistance. Limitation on Security-related Assistance for fiscal years 2011 through 2014 and a limitation on Arms Transfers for fiscal years 2012 through 2014. Why arms transfers we allowed for another year without certification requirement? I don't know.

Bulk of the arm purchases of conventional variety by Pakistan from the US had already taken place during the Bush-Musharraf years. A CRS report of 2012 on this subject says "Major U.S. arms sales and grants to Pakistan since 2001 have included items useful for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations, along with a number of big ticket platforms more suited to conventional warfare.In dollar value terms, the bulk of purchases have been made with Pakistani national funds, but U.S. grants have eclipsed these in recent years." it goes on to say "The Pentagon reports total Foreign Military Sales agreements with Pakistan worth about $5.4 billion for FY2002-FY2010 (in-process sales of F-16 combat aircraft and related equipment account for about half of this).", It should be remembered that in the 90's the US had denied arms sales to Pakistan. The sale of F16s were done under the garb of using them in counter terrorism operations.

It is always possible for the US government to block transfer of weapons already contracted. A CRS report of Aug 2009 says ", all government-to-government agreements or licensed commercial contracts for the transfer of defense articles or defense services may be halted, modified, or terminated by the executive
branch should it determine that it is advisable to do so. In this context, should the Bush Administration decide that actions taken by the government of Pakistan are contrary to the national security interests of the United States, the President can suspend or terminate existing arms sales agreements or prevent the delivery of weapons previously ordered, as he deems appropriate. The Congress can also pass legislation that would suspend, modify, or terminate any arms sale contract should it choose to do so."

Of course none of these weapons sales were ever suspended. All this while the ISI within the ISI continued to support Taliban and blunt the US army's efforts. Under Obama's watch Osama Bin Laden was found in a safe haven within the garrison town of Pakistan, again the so called "rogue elements" in ISI were blamed to have provided support to him without the knowledge at the "highest level". Then in 2011 there was a border skirmish between Pakistani forces and the American forces in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. In response Pakistan blocked the supply routes and threatened to evict US from the Shamsi air base. After US apology the blockade was lifted. But the US government had to take some action too so the aid was reduced for a while.

Obama's second administration has now taken office. After the cooling down period of 2011-2012 the relations between Pakistan and US are back on track. Pakistani foreign minister visited US in January and during an interview with Charlie rose said that relations are much better now. I believe they were assured of support from the US government of continued aid and assistance despite their chequered history. The statement from newly appointed Secretary of State John Kerry in which he said "aid cut will be unkind" should be indicative.

While all this was going on there was an incident on the LOC in January 2013 in which two Indian soldiers were killed there bodies mutilated and one dead body beheaded by the Pakistani army as claimed by India and as usual denied by Pakistan. This incident was supposedly in response to a previous incident in which one Pakistani solder was killed in cross border firing by India which was in response to Pakistani shelling in which three civilians had died which India claims was to enable cross border infiltration. When India protested to Pakistan about the beheading incident  the Pakistani FM denied any role of her Army and in the wake of Indian Army Chief's statement that "we reserve the right to retaliate at the time and place of our choosing" did not miss the opportunity of her US attention to blame India of "war mongering ".

While all this is important the most important story here is, and what even Mr Ahmed Rashid is now pushing in the west is, that before exiting Afghanistan USA should get a peace settlement done between Pakistan, Taliban and the Afghanistan government to avoid any post withdrawal conflict between the regional players via their proxies in that country. So the mini ISI has pretty much succeeded in ensuring that its interests in that country are served through the Taliban and also ensured that any talks should not happen without its knowledge. One should be reminded that the Pakistanis had detained Mullah Baradar when they found that he was talking to Afghanistan government without their knowledge. In Sep 2011 Burhanuddin Rabbani who was holding peace talks with the Taliban on behalf of the Afghan government was killed in a suicide attack.

What ever happens in Afghanistan after american withdrawal, I am afraid history is witness, that whenever western countries have interfered in this region for their strategic reasons even if it was for a reason as morally justified as stopping terrorism, the effect has been detrimental to the citizens of the subcontinent. In their "strategic interest"  the tilt has well and truly always been in favour of the establishment in Pakistan at the detriment of India. So I doubt if the LeT will be eliminated or the perpetrators of Mumbai be punished by the time US exists Afghanistan. Time will tell and as they say history will be the judge. But one thing is for sure to me after hearing Mr Rashid and seeing what all has happened since his interview in 2008,  there is no Rogue ISI only a clever indirection. I wonder who was deceived. Was it the US government? Was it the Indian Government? Or the people of the subcontinent?

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