After much pressure by the United States, Afghanistan, India and many
Pakistanis, the new Pakistani government is ridding the ISI (Inter Service
Intelligence agency) of personnel who are more interested in committing
terrorism, than in stopping it. The government recently announced that the
political wing of ISI was being disbanded. This section was believed
responsible for Pakistani support of Islamic, or simply Pakistani, terrorist
operations in Afghanistan and India, as well as support for Taliban and al
Qaeda in Pakistan itself. The political wing has also served as a domestic
spying operation whenever the military was running the country (which is about
half the time.) Pakistan is currently run by a newly elected civilian
ISI has long
supported Islamic terrorists, and this time Pakistan is determined to root out
"Taliban spies" in the ISI. The problem is that these Islamic
radicals have been operating openly in the ISI for three decades, and were put
there by the government in the late 1970s, when it was decided that Islamic
conservatism was the solution for Pakistan's problems (corruption and
religious/ethnic conflicts.) These guys are not just "Taliban spies,"
but Pakistani intelligence professionals that believe in Islamic radicalism.
itself was created in 1948 as a reaction to the inability of the IB
(Intelligence Bureau, which collected intelligence on foreign countries in
general) and MI (Military Intelligence, which collected intel on military
matters) to work together and provide useful information. The ISI was supposed
to take intel from IB and MI, analyze it and present it to senior government
officials. But in the 1950s, the government began to use the ISI to collect intel
on Pakistanis, especially those suspected of opposing the current government.
This backfired eventually, and in the 1970s, the ISI was much reduced by a
civilian government. But when another coup took place in 1977, and the new
military government decided that religion was the cure for what ailed the
the Pakistani generals seized control of the government every decade or so,
when the corruption and incompetence of elected officials became too much for
the military men to tolerate. The generals never did much better, and
eventually there were elections again, and the cycle continued. The latest
iteration began in 1999, when the army took over, and was only voted out of
power last year. Civilian governments tend to be hostile to the ISI, and
apparently they are going to make a real effort to clear out many of the
Islamic radicals in the ISI. But as recent attempt by the government to take
control of the ISI backfired when the generals said they would not allow it.
Nothing is simple in Pakistan.
The ISI grew
particularly strong during the 1980s, when billions of dollars, most of it in
the form of military and economic aid, arrived from the oil-rich Arab
governments of the Persian Gulf. All this was to support the Afghans, who were
resisting a Russian invasion (in support of Afghan communists who had taken
control of the government, and triggered a revolt of the tribes). The Afghan
communists were atheists, and this greatly offended Saudi Arabia, and other
Arab countries, who feared that Russia would encourage Arab communists to rebel elsewhere. So the
resistance to the Russians in Afghanistan was declared a holy war which, after
a fashion, it was. After about nine years of fighting the tribes, the Russians
got tired of their slow progress (and more pressing problems back home, like
the collapse of their economy from decades of communist mismanagement).
were gone by 1989 (and the Soviet Union collapsed three years later), but the
Afghans promptly fell upon each other and the civil war seemed never-ending.
This upset Pakistan, which wanted to send millions of Afghan refugees back
home. Few of the refugees were interested as long as Afghans were still
fighting each other. So the ISI created its own faction, the Taliban, by
recruiting teachers and students from a network of religious schools that had
been established (with the help of Saudi Arabian religious charities) in the
1980s. The most eager recruits were young Afghans from the refugee camps. The
Taliban were fanatical, and most Afghans were willing to support them because
they brought peace and justice. But the Taliban never conquered all of
Afghanistan, especially in the north, where there were few Pushtun tribes (most
Taliban were Pushtuns, from tribes in southern Afghanistan). The Pushtuns were
about 40 percent of the population, and had always been the most prominent
faction in Afghanistan (the king of Afghanistan was traditionally a Pushtun.)
military junta was again running Pakistan when September 11, 2001 came along,
the president of the country, an army general (Pervez Musharraf), sided with
the United States, and turned against the Taliban. But many in the ISI
continued to support the Taliban, and the army was too dependent on the ISI
(for domestic intelligence, and to control Islamic militants that were
attacking India, especially in Kashmir) to crack down on the ISI.
took this betrayal badly, and declared war on the Pakistani government. The ISI
was used to seek out and kill or capture most of the hostile al Qaeda
operatives in Pakistan. But the ISI insured that Islamic terrorists who
remained neutral were generally left alone. The ISI thwarted government efforts
to have the army clear the al Qaeda out of the border areas (populated largely
by Pushtun tribes, there being more Pushtuns in Pakistan than in Afghanistan).
But now, in one sense, it's September 11, 2001 all over again. The U.S. has
told Pakistan that it is fed up with getting screwed around by the ISI, and if
Pakistan doesn't clean out the ISI, and shut down Islamic terrorists along the
Afghan border, NATO, U.S. and Afghan troops will cross the border and do it.
wants continued U.S. military aid to bolster its defenses against India. But if
it suddenly has a hostile U.S. in Afghanistan, and less (or no) military aid,
it's general military situation will be, well, not good. While Afghanistan, and
the foreign troops there, are dependent on Pakistani ports and trucking
companies for supplies, Pakistan is also dependent on the U.S. Navy for access
to the sea. Pakistan does not want to go to war with the United States in order
to defend Islamic terrorists it openly says it is at war with. Pakistan is
being forced to destroy the Islamic radical movement it has nurtured over the
last three decades, although it's still questionable if there's enough
political will in Pakistan to actually do the deed.